[NOTE: 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.]
Despite the absolute nature of the University’s ban on smoking products, the University’s response to those caught violating the handbook is not absolute. Scott Wanzer, director of campus safety, said that if campus safety officers find evidence someone is smoking, their response isn’t always the same.
“Minimally we are going to have a conversation with them because it’s against what they’ve agreed to do,” Wanzer said. “Beyond that, the level of consequence is going to vary significantly depending [on the] person, and their history.”
Without exception, students caught either smoking or in possession of smoking paraphernalia will be reported to residence life. What happens then, though, depends on the context of the student’s situation, and whether he or she is a casual smoker or someone struggling with addiction.
“Because of the addictive nature of smoking, we really work to identify from the individual where they’re at, trying to discern [what] the student’s current usage is.” said Andre Broquard, Dean of Student Life and Director of Resident Life. “I want to walk with them and understand the addictive nature. It’s probably not feasible to always say quit now.”
Residence life will talk to a student’s residence director and, in the case of addiction, work with the nurse to provide the student with nicotine patches to help them quit.
Former student Blake Rardin was unaware that the University would work with him to quit, but he said that didn’t prevent him from asking for help.
“I wasn’t really afraid to talk to somebody but I never did,” Rardin said. “I just did it on my own. For me going to ask somebody for help is like a knockdown-dragout fight.”
Jeff takes precautions to avoid crossing the line from social smoker to addict, because he wants to keep having what he sees as the positive benefits of smoking without the negative risk of addiction.
“I never keep a stash [of cigars]. If I buy it I use it that day,” Jeff said. “I don’t keep a stash for two reasons: so I don’t go smoking by myself if I get stressed and so I don’t get caught with it. It’s to keep myself accountable.”
Ben also tries to avoid smoking for any reason other than recreational use.
“One of the ways I avoid getting addicted is I refuse to do it for ‘medicinal reasons,’” Ben said. “If I have a stressful day I won’t go smoke to chill out.”
Despite this approach, Ben admits there were times in high school that he began to crave a smoke, and that when that happened he cut back the frequency with which he was smoking. Despite cigars’ low risk of addiction, Jeff has still had experience struggling to avoid smoking ‘medicinally,’ but not with cigars, and not in a group.
“One time I got an e-cig because I was stressed out,” said Jeff. “I know other people that [smoke] when they’re stressed out, [but] most of the guys I know … do it because it’s a social thing. The key is to never do it by yourself, which is hard.”
“There were many times I did it to relieve stress,” said Rardin. “Last semester when I figured out I wasn’t going to be able to come back to JBU because of financial reasons I smoked to relieve that stress instead of talking to somebody.”
In Broquard’s experience, students that smoked rarely didn’t want to quit.
“Generally there aren’t too many students I’ve talked to about smoking who don’t want to quit,” said Broquard. “Even those smoking a pipe in more social setting they will identify that it isn’t the best thing for [them].”
The question raised is whether smoking is valuable enough in a Christian community to ignore rules and risk falling into addiction. Since coming to the University, Jeff has started to have doubts about the value of smoking as a social activity.
“Coming into college I didn’t care,” said Jeff. “I thought it was fine. I’m wrestling with myself over whether I should do it at all because a lot of people spend thousands of dollars on tobacco and then die early because of it. They didn’t chose that, just over time you get more and more addicted.”