The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) met on Sunday, March 3 to discuss the possibility of prohibiting tobacco sales on campus-owned property, including the site of Neon Deli. However, the WSA decided to postpone voting on the issue until the next meeting, citing as reason that they wanted more information on the topic.
Some WSA members wanted to speak to more students and hear more opinions on the proposal. Some members also questioned whether the Assembly has the right to ban tobacco sales on property leased from the University. Additionally, members of the Assembly wanted information about how the change would affect sales at Neon Deli, currently the only store on campus that would be touched by this ban.
Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley explained the proposal in an email to The Argus.
“Some WSA members first raised this [topic] with me last week and asked about the possibility of amending Wesleyan’s lease with Neon Deli when it is next renewed,” Whaley wrote.
The idea was originally proposed by Student Affairs Committee (SAC) Chair Nicole Updegrove ’14, who wanted to see what the campus reaction to a proposal like this would be. Updegrove noted that she proposed the resolution as a student, independent from the SAC.
“I thought this was an interesting idea and so I wanted to bring it forward and let people talk about it,” Updegrove said. “If I hear really good arguments against it, I probably won’t even vote for it; I just want to hear other people and what they think. This isn’t just me hugely pushing an agenda on the rest of the community.”
Updegrove spoke about the proposal with Whaley and Associate Vice President for Finance Nathan Peters. Whaley wrote that he supports the proposal but will leave it to the WSA to pass or reject a resolution.
“Although I personally support the change given what we know about the harms associated with tobacco use, I think that having the WSA decide the issue is most appropriate as there are undoubtedly many different perspectives on this within our community,” Whaley wrote.
WSA member Nikki Softness ’14 strongly disagrees with the proposal.
“I don’t think it’s Wesleyan’s place as a...university, not a high school, to make choices for us that are legal for most of us,” Softness said. “I don’t think as [a] renter it’s our place to tell them what they can and cannot sell...As much as people like to think it is.”
Updegrove explained her stance on the issue, saying that she does not oppose smoking on campus, but that she feels that allowing tobacco to be sold on University property contradicts the University’s principles. According to her, by banning tobacco sales, the University would assert its commitment to student health.
“I’m alarmed by the number of people who start [smoking] while they’re here,” Updegrove said. “And moreover, I think it’s really a chance for Wesleyan to take a stand on its principles. Clearly, the University has a commitment to our health, and indirectly profiting through Neon Deli by selling us cigarettes is pretty hypocritical.”
Updegrove explained that during a National College Health Improvement Program meeting she learned several statistics about smoking that led her to reflect upon how tobacco sales could be regulated on campus.
“One of the things we saw was that five percent of Wesleyan freshmen start smoking after the first six weeks, which is about 35 students,” Undegrove said. “There are smoking cessation therapies offered and a lot of classes talk about cigarettes for sure, in pre-med classes and in sociology and econ. But I was just surprised that we don’t do anything and I started thinking about ways that could change.”
After explaining her reasoning to people who have asked her about the topic of banning tobacco sales, Updegrove received more support for her resolution.
“Since then, I’ve talked to a number of people, including some smokers, and when I’ve talked about the University standing on principle it’s really in line with the move to divest from fossil fuels, the endowment, and arms manufacturer[s],” Updegrove said. “It’s also very similar to the bottled water ban...When people just hear, ‘Student wants to ban smoking,’ that’s what they hear when they read the headlines, even though that’s not what I’m looking for at all, and they react negatively, and I’m not surprised.”
WSA Treasurer and Chair of the Student Budget Committee Nicole Brenner ’15 noted that this proposal calls into question the power that the Assembly holds.
“I think that the resolution to ban the sale of tobacco products is a really interesting one because it poses the question of what should the WSA’s role be in this type of thing,” Brenner said. “Is it more of our responsibility to represent what the students want or should we be making these decisions and passing these resolutions that are for the better interests of the students?”
Neon Deli proprietor Fran Galle declined to comment on the proposal.