Smoking issue at BC not forgotten as new semester underway

Kennedy Thomas, Reporter

Initially intended to go into effect this semester, Bakersfield College’s smoking ban has been delayed due to administrative conflict between the Student Government Association and the Kern Community College District.

The policy, originally overseen by last semester’s Student Government General Counsel Nick Acosta, was a result of a campus-wide online poll for students, who were given the choice between a completely smoke-free campus and designated smoking areas.  The majority of poll participants opted for a full ban on smoking.

Since the results, SGA proponents of the ban have continued to have difficulty in seeing the policy through to its fruition.

While the SGA is adamant about a smoke-free BC, the KCCD wants to enact a district wide policy incorporating designated smoking areas, currently in place at both Cerro Coso and Porterville colleges, into BC before eventually moving to a completely smoke-free policy throughout the district.

With Acosta’s departure from BC at the end of last semester, Student Government Legislative Liaison Shelby Sward, 20, has taken up the responsibility of pursuing the ban.

Still planning on achieving a complete smoking ban, Sward acknowledged that there have been some roadblocks.

“The students here voted to have a smoke-free campus,” she said.  “So everyone thought that we would have one by this year, but it doesn’t actually work like that, it has to go through the administration.”

Though she remains dedicated to the task, Sward did not hesitate to share her disappointment in the lack of action so far.

“To have nothing to show after a year is a little embarrassing,” she said.

Sward said that the KCCD wishes to enact gradual change across the entire district by first establishing designated smoking areas at BC before eventually shifting to a fully smoke-free environment on all campuses.

Despite the KCCD’s desires for an initial shift to designated smoking areas, Sward wishes to pursue the full ban on smoking, as she feels that honoring the decision of the majority of BC students should come first.

By coordinating with the student trustee from Porterville College, Genevie Bunch, who gets to vote at district board meetings, Sward hopes to help tip the odds in the SGA’s favor.

“I’m hoping to work with her, to get her vote as completely smoke-free, instead of designated [smoking areas] for each school,” said Sward.  “So we’ll start with her, and then we’ll hopefully continue advocating to the other members of the board saying ‘look, we understand your logic, but we don’t want that, we want completely smoke-free.  This is what the students want.’”

Even though she is confident that the SGA can succeed in creating a smoke-free policy, Sward has not discounted the possibility of compromise, hoping to have some form of smoking policy in place by next semester.

“Worst comes to worst, we’ll probably have designated smoke areas by Spring 2014.  Best case scenario:  completely smoke-free by Spring 2014.”

Bakersfield College President Sonya Christian echoed Sward’s concern about seeing the complete smoking ban passed in the near future, but maintained that the ultimate goal was a smoke-free campus.

“We are going boldly… We’re going to go fully tobacco free,” said Christian.  “Do I think we can go tobacco free this year?  No.  We would need to have the policy in place, but what we’re trying to do is, if we can’t go tobacco free, then [we can] do designated areas.”

In addition to the SGA, Christian is coordinating with the Dean of Allied Health, Cindy Collier, who is working with a team to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of a prospective designated smoking area policy.

Sward, who was elected to student government for the first time this semester, remains dedicated to the cause.

“I’m still new to this whole thing, so I’m maybe naively optimistic,” she said.  “I’m really excited and ready to, with the help of Sonya Christian and the SGA, keep it moving forward.”

Also being worked on is a plan to enforce the potential ban.  Sward outlined a tentative plan, still in the early stages of discussion, which would see the primary punishment for smoking policy offenders resemble BC’s parking violation system.  Dedicated personnel would issue tickets to violators of the smoking policy, which would increase in cost if offenders did not pay off the initial citation.

In response to whether or not there were personal motivations for the SGA to aggressively pursue the no smoking policy, Sward stated that many members of the SGA are, in fact, smokers themselves, but that their personal feelings on the matter will have no effect on their dedication to implementing the ban.

“Ninety-nine percent of us smoke here,” Sward said, “but at the same time, that has nothing to do with our job; our job is to do what the students want.”

Sward assured that work on the policy will continue throughout the course of the semester, and that it has not fallen by the wayside.

“It hasn’t been forgotten, it’s just there’s nothing to show for it quite yet.  But there is work being done.”