BUCKHANNON — There are no butts about it — West Virginia Wesleyan College is now officially a tobacco-free campus, the college’s public relations department announced Friday.
The policy went into effect Monday, Jan. 23 and is designed to help reduce the health risks associated with tobacco use, smoking and second-hand smoke. According to Friday’s press release, the policy applies to all buildings, the grounds — including exterior open spaces, parking lots, on-campus sidewalks, streets, driveways, stadiums, recreational spaces and practice facilities — and in all Wesleyan owned or leased vehicles.
Vice president for enrollment John Waltz, who served on a committee dedicated to implementing the policy, said statistics show that many students don’t come to college as smokers, but pick up the habit sometime during their four years studying.
“We really think it’s a positive and proactive step that will lead to less folks beginning to smoke in the first place while they’re at college,” Waltz said Thursday. “In addition, it’s kind of become an expectation among prospective students and visitors that any place they’re going to come and live for four years be smoke-free.”
Waltz said he also sees the move as congruent with some of Buckhannon’s recent efforts to ban smoking in parks and other public spaces.
Jessica Vincent, assistant coordinator of the Center for Community Engagement and Leadership Development, said the effort to transform Wesleyan into a tobacco-free campus was actually spearheaded by a student, Kayla Hinkley, who graduated in May 2016.
Hinkley organized a committee, of which Waltz was a member, and conducted campus-wide surveys, eventually presenting the issue to Wesleyan’s student senate.
“The facts from the survey showed that 80 percent of students, faculty and staff wanted to go tobacco-free,” said Vincent, who worked in collaboration with Hinkley to transform the idea into an actual policy.
In order to ease the campus community into the change, the college designated approximately five tobacco-free zones in the fall of 2016.
“It was like, let’s not do this all at one time,” Vincent said. “Let’s get you aware of what we’re about to do to help make that transformation a little easier.”
In addition, the college has staged several events to raise awareness about the policy change. On Tuesday, for example, the student senate made “quit kits” that contain items such as gum, cinnamon toothpicks, mints, educational material and information on the W.Va. Tobacco Quitline. The student senate also completed a cigarette butt clean-up on Tuesday, collecting six bags-full of cigarette butts, tobacco cartons and snuff boxes.
Vincent said she thinks the policy shift is a positive one for several reasons.
First, it gives students the opportunity to make their voices heard about an issue and then see a concrete change come out of their input.
“In addition, we want to provide a healthier and cleaner environment now and in the future,” Vincent said. “We believe this is a campus effort and it takes all of the West Virginia Wesleyan community working together to make our campus and the initiative the best it can be.”
Throughout this week, students have been signing notes in support of a tobacco-free campus and also penning letters of hope that someone they care about will quit tobacco, Vincent said. Those notes now decorate the wall in front of the switchboard at the entrance of the Benedum Campus Center.
The college received three grants through the American Lung Association, and the money was used to post signage on campus and to stage service events leading up to the policy change.
“The Upshur County Tobacco Coalition was extremely supportive of the effort and provided feedback throughout the process,” Vincent said. “We hope to work with the city to ensure the sidewalk areas and Riverwalk are included in our initiative.”
“This policy wasn’t created to negatively affect anyone on campus, but to provide hope, support and education so that everyone has the opportunity to pursue a healthier lifestyle,” Vincent added, “and if Wesleyan can be the seed that begins someone’s period of cessation, they we’ve really accomplished the goal Kayla (Hinkley) had in mind.”
The college’s Health and Counseling Center will provide information on quitting tobacco use, and tobacco users who are struggling to stop are encouraged to take advantage of services offered through the W.Va. Tobacco Quit Line at 877-966-8784.