The Garden City Community College Board of Trustees revisited the college’s smoking policy on Tuesday, broaching the idea of making the campus entirely tobacco-free.

After a short discussion, the board reached a consensus to revisit the subject at its May meeting, where board members will discuss alternative language to a line in the board’s policy governance that dictates that the GCCC president ensure “a safe and healthy environment on campus.” The new language may expand on the line, calling for the president to make the campus completely tobacco-free by a certain date.

Trustees Blake Wasinger, Terri Worf, Merilyn Douglass, Steve Martinez and Leonard Hitz all said during the meeting they would support steps toward a fully tobacco-free campus, and Trustee Jeff Crist echoed the sentiment after the meeting.

Once the board takes action on the matter, there will be “quite a bit of work” ahead for administrators, said GCCC President Ryan Ruda.

The plans so far are a mutual effort between the SGA and the board, SGA advisor Lauren Rockhold said in an email, and SGA members already have met with LiveWell Finney County Health Coalition Grant Coordinator Donna Gerstner and begun developing a survey to gauge student and staff response to the potential change.

Everything is still in its early stages, Rockhold said.

“With a decision like this, we want to reflect the student body’s opinions in our actions,” she said in an email.

Surveys also may be available for the community, Ruda said. With the information in hand, staff would research colleges that had enacted similar policies to draw up action plans before any official policy changes, he said.

“I definitely support it, there,” Ruda said of making GCCC tobacco-free. “I think a lot of the direction that we’re going there as far as trying to promote a healthy environment on campus, it’s definitely a direction that we need to be going…”

It isn’t the first time the college has added restrictions to its tobacco policy. City ordinance and state statute have long prohibited smoking inside public buildings or within 50 feet of entrances, and in 2013, the Board of Trustees limited any campus tobacco use to six designated areas.

And the issue has not lied dormant since then. In April 2018, LiveWell Finney County Health Coalition Executive Director Callie Dyer addressed the board during the public comments session of a meeting, saying the college and board had offered little feedback to her multiple requests for a smoke- and tobacco-free campus and that college staff had missed the deadline for a $20,000 tobacco-free programming grant she had suggested.

In the months after Dyer’s address, which she said was met with little response by the college or board, Holcomb and Finney County made it illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase tobacco products, an action Garden City took in 2017. In January, Dyer approached the board again and repeated her request. That night, Wasinger told The Telegram the board would discuss the subject in the future.

Gerstner said Wednesday that LiveWell’s staff was excited about the board’s interest in GCCC going tobacco-free, calling it a “step in the right direction.” Since local government has outlawed tobacco products for anyone under 21, and the majority of GCCC students are 20 or under, the move is a “no brainer” and follows in the footsteps of many other colleges, she said.

The suggested grant money is no longer available, but LiveWell can provide information and resources to help with the college’s plans, including information or classes for people looking to quit using tobacco products, signage about tobacco or new policies and potential funding options, Gerstner said.

“We’re just all about making the community healthier...” Gerstner said. “We want to help those that may have nicotine addiction … We want to be there for them.”

There would be complications to tobacco policy change, Ruda said, particularly in regards to enforcement. Staff will have to consider suitable penalties, such as fines, and effective ways for the GCCC Police Department to impose the new rule.

It may be especially difficult to enforce the rule among community members at college events, Wasinger said. The rodeo team may also have to reconsider sponsorships from tobacco companies, Worf said.

Crist said in a separate interview that he was concerned about logistics, including how far the policy would go and how it would affect current and prospective staff members who smoke.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight, but, yeah, I support it,” Crist said. “But, I don’t smoke.”

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.