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US: Penn State Student Government speaks out against tobacco-free policy changes

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Student representatives in the US are concerned that the policy goes against harm reduction and questions claims of “harm” done by second-hand vapour

The Council of Commonwealth Student Governments (CCSG) at Penn State University has issued a statement criticising changes to its tobacco policy.

They speak for students who have raised concerns that it is too restrictive to other forms of nicotine consumption, such as vaping. The council is not averse to a smoke-free policy, but feels this measure undermines harm reduction and smoking cessation by unfairly conflating smoking with vaping. They also feel that, though reducing secondhand smoke falls within acceptable parameters of such a policy, secondhand vapour (and chewing tobacco) pose negligible danger to bystanders.

The university updated its tobacco and smoke-free policy in October last year. The update prohibited “smoking and the use of tobacco in and on all University owned or leased properties, facilities and vehicles.” It also extended the definition of prohibited tobacco products,  including “any product intended to mimic tobacco products, contain tobacco flavoring or deliver nicotine.” Naturally, e-cigarettes (as the most popular non-combustible form of “mimicry”) bore the brunt of this crackdown.

The Council laid out its full position in an Instagram post, which went up on January 24. The statement reads:

“The concerns raised among Commonwealth campus students are that the policy is too broad, and not enforceable.Since the ban includes forms of tobacco that aren’t necessarily as harmful to other students, like chewing tobacco or e-cigarettes, there is a concern that the ban is overarching and violates a personal consumption choice.”

They also included a diplomatic suggestion on how the policy could be more efficient in achieving its goals.

“Instead, there should be a revision to the tobacco-free policy that would make it much more effective. For one, the policy should be reduced in scope to only apply to traditional cigarettes. Since the other means of consumption are questionable in the harm done to others, their usage should be a protected personal choice. Secondly, the ban should be a restriction rather than a total prohibition.”

There has not yet been any word from the University on this statement. The University’s next Council Weekend will take place in February, which will be the most likely platform for advancing an ongoing discussion. Chelsey Wood, Chair of Academic Affairs for the University Park Undergraduate Association, has confirmed she will discuss the policy with CCSG Vice President Synthea Hairston at the meeting.

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