In Spring 2016, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will enforce a tobacco-free policy on its campuses that will apply to all staff, students, associates, contractors and visitors.
On May 10, 2010, the University of Texas at Brownsville, which is a legacy institution of UTRGV, and its then partner Texas Southmost College amended its policy to prohibit tobacco use campuswide.
The policy prohibited the use of tobacco products which include cigarettes, cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco. However, members of the campus community at UT Pan American were allowed to smoke at least 25 feet away from a building’s entrance, stairway to buildings and outdoor passageways to entrances and stairways.
That will no longer be the case. UTRGV prohibits the use of all smoking devices and tobacco products on university property, according to the school’s Handbook of Operating Procedures.
Exceptions include sponsored research involving smoking devices or tobacco products with prior approval of the associate vice president for research and on the grounds of off-campus graduate housing facilities.
Richard Costello, director of Environmental Health, Safety and Risk Management, said the policies are now consistent for both campuses.
Although the policy became effective on Sept. 1, students in Edinburg are still under the impression that they can smoke in a smoking designated area.
“At this time, it hasn’t been formally announced,” Costello said. “Plus, there’s some ambiguity on how it’s going to be enforced but, basically, it’s going to prohibit the use of tobacco on both campuses.”
David Marquez, assistant director of Student Rights and Responsibilities at the Brownsville campus, said he agrees with the policy.
“That’s not to say that I’m against smoking or anything like that,” Marquez said. “I’m just saying, as an area that is accessible to the public, that we need to make sure that, especially in a higher education community, a university has an obligation to educate first and foremost, and we need to continue to follow the advice coming in from the subject area experts, the people who know the negative effects not only to people’s health firsthand but secondhand.”
Rebecca Gadson, interim associate vice president for Student Life and Dean of Students, said the University of Texas System is developing policies for a healthy campus environment.
“The [UT System] has put together stakeholders from the different member institutions to talk about how to assist in creating a healthy campus community environment to plan a tobacco summit to help use active bystander intervention, help promote the adherence to policies and how to provide some prevention education and information,” Gadson said. “I think as a system there is a commitment, perhaps, to developing comprehensive policies that include not just being smoke-free but tobacco-free, to include the elimination of the electronic nicotine devices as well.”
Criminal justice freshman Juan Avila is in favor of the tobacco-free policy.
“I actually agree with not smoking cigarettes on campus because smoking cigarettes is actually bad for you,” Avila said. “I’ve witnessed a lot of cigarette butts all over the floor. I mean, it’s much better to have an electronic cigarette or a vape pen. … You’re not making any mess, it doesn’t smell bad and you’re not bothering anyone.”