OGDEN -- Nearly 52 percent of Weber State University students who answered a survey said they strongly support making WSU a tobacco-free campus.
But apparently none of those students were in the crowds at the Campus Tobacco Policy Initiative meetings held Thursday in the Shepherd Union Building.
Students' negative opinions flowed and tempers occasionally flared as speaker Ty Patterson, of the National Center for Tobacco Policy, spoke about effective strategies for limiting or banning tobacco use on campus.
History major Cynthia Balzomo was wary of the university taking any actions to limit students' legal behavior.
"I don't smoke, but I don't want to be told what I can and cannot do," said Balzomo, 39, of Ogden. "I'm a history student, and I understand the dangers. I wonder where it will stop."
Jen Henderson, 24, of Ogden, is a smoker.
"I have a problem sitting in a classroom with girls who are wearing too much perfume," she said. "I choke. People just need to be considerate. If my friends and I go to smoke in an area where someone is already there, we ask them if it's OK, and if it's not, we leave.
"Everybody is trying to push their own agenda on everyone else," Henderson said. "People who walk by me using bad language make me uncomfortable. Are we going to ban that next?"
Weber State -- where only 4.8 percent of students identify themselves as smokers -- currently has no smoking restrictions except those required by Utah's Clean Air Act, which bans smoking in public buildings and requires outdoor smokers to stay at least 25 feet from buildings.
But compliance has been a problem, so WSU's Student Senate responded by drafting a proposal that Weber State become a tobacco-free campus. The senate expects to vote on its final resolution March 21, and upon approval, would take the proposal to school administrators in hopes of a positive ruling.
But between now and then, student senators have been studying the question, talking to students and posting an online survey, which was sent to approximately 2,400 of Weber State's 19,000 enrolled students. But as of Thursday, only 410 had responded.
Some students questioned the validity of studies that claim secondhand smoke is harmful. Chemistry and neuroscience student Michal Matyjasik, of Ogden, said toxic car and factory exhaust have been proven at least a billion times more significant to human health.
Matyjasik also was concerned that the students he most often observes smoking are international students and members of racial minorities. For the majority of students to support a ban of smoking behaviors enjoyed by minorities would be racist, he said.
Kevin Willardson, 26, a philosophy major/mathematics minor from Riverdale, said the often-cited Environmental Protection Agency study from the 1970s, used to prove the dangers of secondhand smoke, called its own findings "statistically irrelevant." The scientific data has been "perverted," Willardson said, to support claims that outdoor secondhand smoke is significantly harmful.
An international student said that before the meeting, she didn't understand the directive of limiting smoking to at least 25 feet from buildings. Perhaps education would be a more reasonable reaction than banning all tobacco use, she said.
Patterson, who came at the request of the Student Senate, said a few students showed up for an early session to support the proposed ban and to talk about the respiratory health problems they suffered because of campus secondhand smoke.
Patterson, who said he has consulted with hundreds of schools exploring an effective tobacco policy, said that overall, student reaction at Weber State was "rather typical."
He admitted his personal bias was toward a tobacco-free campus, but said each school has to find the policy that best suits its needs, whether that means limiting restrictions to those required by state laws, providing smoking shacks, banning smoking or banning all tobacco, including that dipped from a tin and chewed.
Patterson said nothing he said would change the minds of some in the crowd. He also didn't know how to respond to people who didn't believe conclusions of scientific studies, he said. But he was happy to take all questions that time allowed.
"What we are here for is discussion," Patterson said. "The more discussion, the better. It's part of the democratic process."