Group of UW-L students push for tobacco-free campus

Published On: Feb 26 2013 06:07:00 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 26 2013 06:25:18 PM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -

A group of University of Wisconsin-La Crosse students are trying to make their campus tobacco-free.

Right now, students and staff members have to be 25-feet away from any building if they want to smoke on campus.

If this initiative is approved, the 15 percent of students and staff members who smoke will have to clear off campus completely if they want to light up.

UW-L Senior Caitlyn Bednarek is graduating at the end of the year, but there's a legacy she hopes to leave behind.

"I think that people deserve the right to breathe healthy, clean air,” said Bednarek.

That's why she's spearheading the university's “Nobacco” initiative, which would ban tobacco use anywhere on campus.

"It should be a safe environment for everybody, but right now, with the policy being kind of gray area, with smoking just being 25-feet from the building, there are still people that are having health issues," said Bednarek.

Freshman Sam Rhubecky sees it differently.

He wrote the chancellor an email on Tuesday about why he sees the change as an infringement on his rights.

"We're guaranteed the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And though smoking is detrimental to health, as everyone knows, I think that is still an infringement of that right. If that's what makes you happy, if that's what calms you down, if that's your reason, then how can they take that away?" said Rhubecky.

The impact of a tobacco ban could be felt off-campus too.

"A lot of people are really worried that by restricting smoking on campus, or the use of other tobacco products, that people are just going to wander across the street and start smoking and using their tobacco products in the neighborhood," said Bednarek.

That's why organizers plan to offer a hotline neighbors could call if they're having problems with cigarette butts on their lawns.

The Student Association will vote on Wednesday whether to poll students on their opinions in an April ballot.

That would give the campus governance groups some insight into student sentiment before they decide whether to give the change a thumbs-up.

"All four governance groups have to approve it. If one group says no, then it's done and it's not a new policy -- so, [it’s] kind of a lot of pressure,” said UW-L Wellness Coordinator Jason Bertrand, who’s helping the students get the initiative rolling.

UW-Stout is already a tobacco-free campus. There are six other universities in the UW system headed in that direction.

In La Crosse, Western Technical College is tobacco-free and Viterbo University will be as well in summer 2014.

Students leading the campaign held the first of four open forums Tuesday night, where members of the UW-L and La Crosse communities could weigh in. Three more are scheduled:

Tuesday, March 26 at 10 a.m. in 339 Cartwright Center

Friday, March 29 at 1 p.m. in 1400 Centennial Hall

Wednesday, April 3 at 7 p.m. in 1309 Centennial Hall

Anyone with comments or questions can also email the organizers at nobacco13@gmail.com.