Students struggle with campus tobacco ban: part one

[This article contains references to and quotes from two John Brown University students, identified as Ben and Jeff. Both are real University students whose names have been changed to protect their identity.]

Blake Rardin smoked what he hopes is his last cigarette two months ago. While attending John Brown University from fall 2012 to fall 2013, Blake tried to quit, but he was unable to do so until he left the university.

“It is very hard to quit cold turkey,” said Blake. “Before I came to JBU smoking was a social thing but then it got to the point that I was just smoking to smoke and I was just smoking cigarette after cigarette after cigarette.”

It is University policy that students who sign the Community Covenant agree not to be in possession of, or use, any smoking or tobacco product on or off campus, according to the student handbook.

“We ask students to not be in possession of or use any smoking products,” said Andre Broquard, dean of student life and director of residence life. “We recognize the health issues and the historical and current position of the general evangelical culture is that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and we want to take care of our bodies.”

For some students at University, smoking tobacco has a social function despite being banned.

University student Jeff said he typically smokes a cigar with friends off campus a couple of times a semester, but has had e-cigarettes in the past.

“Usually its late at night and most of the time its back at the beginning or … end of the semester or its somebody’s birthday,” said Jeff. “Me and no more than 5 guys go off campus for an hour or two, hang out and get a soda and a cigar.”

For University student Ben, smoking a cigar with his friends is a purely social exercise.

“Most of the time we casually hang out so a few of us that smoke get together and we go someplace in town and hang out and smoke and talk about life and what’s happening,” said Ben. “It’s a really chill time of community.”

Blake said when he attended the University he would regularly smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco three to four times a week, most often by himself.

“I would use chewing tobacco and cigarettes on campus and off campus at the lake or at Walmart,” said Blake. “Most of the time it was by myself and I would smoke a cigarette but with a group I would smoke a cigar or pipe.”

Blake said he was very aware of his surroundings when he was using tobacco products so that he would not get caught.

“I would make sure campo wasn’t around and I would get familiar with the RAs and RDs cars around campus and I would try to avoid [them].” said Blake. “If I ever got caught I thought I’d get heavily fined.”

The University ban includes cigars, cigarettes, cigarillos and hookah, among other things.

“In our prohibition of smoking within the institution we are recognizing that our bodies are not our own and that has some implications that can stretch beyond the issue of smoking,” said Broquard. “I’m not the center of the universe and you’re not the center of the universe and when we recognize what is at the center, it has some deep implications about how we live our lives.”

Despite the University’s policy, Ben sees smoking as something that can be reconciled with his faith.

“I think it can be used for witness,” said Ben. “To some people, finding out that I smoke changed how they saw me from this good Christian kid to a real person.”

He also does not think that the ban means smoking is inherently immoral, because of a perceived positive impact on community and because the ban, in his mind, is a purely practical health consideration.

“More or less the spirit of the law is still intact because it’s so few times,” said Ben. “In my situation and how we’ve been handling it the benefits outweigh following the letter of the law.”

For Ben, promoting a healthy community means more than promoting healthy bodies, and that is why he is unsure if he is against the ban.

“I’m torn. I’ve seen in my life how [smoking] has provided good community but if you allow smoking on campus that does separate people,” said Ben. “People who don’t smoke don’t want to be around smokers while they’re smoking, but if you allow smoking off-campus then people who smoke will leave campus, and that hinders community also.”

Blake said that he thinks the ban on smoking makes it harder for regular users to quit.

“If you have someone who smokes on a daily basis it would be hard to quit,” said Blake. “Right now I’m trying to quit smoking, so if [students are] trying to seek out help with that, I think there should be a designated area on campus just for tobacco use.”

Jeff, on the other hand, actually supports the ban.

“It’s good to have rules because it creates a better environment,” said Jeff. “If I went to a public school, I would smoke much more.”