By Scottie Gerbacia, Jon Gonzalez, and Steve Riekeberg – Cougar News Contributors
College of the Canyons may be officially a “smoke-free” campus, but despite this, students can frequently be seen lighting up around school, typically in the former designated smoking areas located around the Honor Grove.
Under the new policy, smoking and tobacco usage is allowed only in the parking lots, at least 50 feet from any building, and in one designated area near Cougar Stadium. The change has been met with resistance from students who smoke, many of whom either don’t care, or seem unaware of the possible consequences, such as eventual expulsion, for smoking on campus.
“If I was smoking something like a blunt or a joint, I wouldn’t mind. But if I was smoking a cigarette, I’d be peeved,” one smoker told Cougar News discussing possible expulsion from the school. Expulsion is the final step in the due process every student receives for breaking the schools code of conduct. Other punishments include written warnings and suspensions, but a possible fine could be put into effect in the near future.
Dr. Michael Wilding, Vice President of Student Services at COC, admitted that the he has thought about adding a fine to the list of sanctions. “We can’t fine people, but I wish I could,” said Wilding.
Wilding claims that it’s not difficult to add fines to the list of sanctions, but that it’s a time consuming process. “The earliest I could do it would be about four months,” said Wilding, “but we just haven’t gotten around to it.”
Some smokers feel that as adults, they should be free to smoke where they wish, and any restrictions on smoking infringe upon their rights. “They should just let it happen,” said one smoker regarding enforcement of the smoking ban. “People are going to smoke. Most of us are adults and we can legally smoke.”
However, Wilding reminds students that “smoking is not a civil right.” According to Wilding, the smoking policy has undergone major changes over the years, more recently from only allowing smoking in designated areas to completely banning smoking on campus entirely. Over time, he admits that his perception of smoking has changed. As a non-smoker, he “never really thought of smoking as a social event” and has come to realize that it’s “not so much about an addiction to nicotine as it is about the social interaction.”
Wilding sympathizes with the reasons many people smoke on campus, typically as a social thing or a way to relax, but says he must also consider the rights of non-smokers and exposure to second-hand smoke. “If you need to have a cigarette, then smoke in your car. You have an ashtray there. You’re fine,” he said.
But smokers feel as if a ten-minute break is too short for them to make the trek out to their cars. “It’s easier sitting here (Honor Grove), where you have friends and you can kind of de-stress for ten minutes, rather than having to walk to the parking lot.”
Smoking a cigarette is not that bad, according to one smoker. “It’s not a mind altering substance. It’s just something that we do to relax and to hang out; to do something else besides worry about school. It really helps me calm down.”
But according to former smoker Audrey Burgdorfer, this is not a healthy way to relax. Burgdorfer heads the COC Student Smoking Cessation program inside the Student Health and Wellness Center. She’s witnessed first-hand the impact of tobacco usage on the lungs and believes that many college students think they can stop at any time. “They underestimate the difficulty of quitting smoking,” said Burgdorfer. Her program is free to all students and says that it has been very successful.
“Quitting is a hard thing to do, but you can do it…You will be shown step by step how to quit. You will be given resources to help you along the way,” she said. The behavior-based program, which is approximately 6 sessions, lasting an hour each, is designed to help students become self motivated to quit. Students who undergo the program will be shown step by step how to quit, and create a personalized plan to resist lighting up.
The topic of smoking will continue to fire up all of those involved. Just last week, the California State legislature passed a measure that would outlaw smoking on all state parks and beaches. Whether an individual supports or is against smoking, it has been the subject of much debate over the years, and it is an ongoing issue that is not likely to be resolved soon.
Students interested in the Smoking Cessation Program can visit the Health and Wellness Center, or can contact Audrey Burgdorfer at (661) 362-3259 or via email. To view the COC Student Conduct Code, click here.