Weber State University student senators on Monday passed a nonbinding resolution asking the university's administration to make WSU a tobacco-free campus by fall 2013.
After months of discussion and with just one remaining weekly Student Senate meeting this school year, the Student Senators voted 15-2 for the resolution.
The resolution next goes to WSU administration, which can act on the bill, ignore it, send it to committee for more research or take whatever action it sees fit.
The two student senators opposing the resolution felt that, in an online survey answered by 410 students and in discussion sessions led by a visiting anti-tobacco activist, the terms "smoke-free" and "tobacco-free" had been used too interchangeably.
Sen. Dan Pittman, who represents Weber State's Asian and Pacific Islanders, said he was ready to support a smoke-free campus resolution, but not one that was tobacco-free.
Pittman said because most of the organized student discussions and nearly all of the online survey questions pertained to secondhand smoke, which chewing tobacco does not produce, student feedback that had been collected indicates support only for a nonsmoking campus.
Some senators said when students chew tobacco and spit the "juice," that also represents a public nuisance and adds to a littering problem, and if a student were to trip over an empty pouch or fall into juice, that could harm their health.
Sen. Lonald Wishom, who represents WSU's African-American students, said the minuscule danger of tripping over a discarded tobacco pouch or falling directly onto a spot of tobacco spit could not logically be compared to the documented risks of death or disease from inhaling circulating secondhand smoke.
"It's ridiculous to me," he said of the comparison.
Another senator argued that Weber State already has a policy prohibiting littering, so including chewing tobacco in the resolution because of potential littering was unnecessary.
But other student senators stated their belief that making WSU a tobacco-free campus would send out a message that Weber State was in favor of health and protecting the environment.
The proposal will go to the administration without the endorsement of Weber State's Faculty Senate, which voted late last week to withhold its support of the resolution.
Faculty senators questioned multiple elements of the Student Senate's research, including ambiguous wording of one survey question, the small number of students who responded to the survey (which the Student Senate said was statistically representative), and the fact that how a smoking or tobacco ban could be enforced was not addressed in the resolution.
One professor said she had previously worked at a tobacco-free business, but workers leaving the premises to smoke caused a lot of lost work time and an increase in auto exhaust. Another professor said she previously worked on a campus that tried to go tobacco-free, and the effort failed miserably.
Faculty Senate Chairman David Malone said later that student senators presented their resolution as an information item and it was a surprise that a Faculty Senate member called for a vote so quickly.
"It was premature right now for the Faculty Senate to weigh in on whether they endorse this or not," Malone said. "The first time something is presented to a group like the Faculty Senate, the first reaction is going to be what is wrong with their argument.
"Enough concerns were raised that we simply didn't want to express our support at this time. It's a long process, to vet this through the legal department and try to garnish public support."
Malone said the initial Faculty Senate vote will likely have little impact on what happens next to the Student Senate resolution. If the administration chooses to ask for further research and opinion, and to have Weber State's legal department weigh in on the proposal, the Faculty Senate would be happy to reconsider giving its support.
"If it actually starts to take shape as proposed policy, the Faculty Senate will be able to weigh in in a more authoritative way."