No ifs, ands or butts for tobacco-free ambassador job

Mills Sparkman

In 2017, I wrote about UVM’s lack of cigarette receptacles and the litter it produced.

According to their website, SGA just passed legislation to provide disposals for cigarettes and other tobacco products.

But, a paid “Tobacco-Free Campus Ambassador” position as created by Center for Health and Wellbeing Director Harry Chen gets it wrong.

A tobacco-free campus is not one that pretends tobacco doesn’t exist on campus. Rather, it is one that aims to prevent it.

This doesn’t mean paying a student to preach to the choir. It means real solutions, such as disposals and regular cleanup.

Though I am optimistic about cigarette receptacles being good for the environment, the ambassador position has me worried.

According to a Feb. 19 email from Jennifer Shasberger, Living Well marketing coordinator, the position is aimed at students interested in education and outreach about the harmful effects of smoking on individuals, the campus and the environment.

The online job description states that students will work in pairs, walking around the “hot-spots” on campus where cigarette butts have been found in excess.

Once there, they’ll talk with smokers and provide education and resources about the tobacco free policy, as well as ways to quit smoking.

In addition, they plan and participate in a tobacco-free event during Earth Week this upcoming April. It is about four to six hours of work a week and pays $13 an hour.

I don’t see this position making a dent in tobacco use on campus.

Unlike trash bins or ashtrays, someone telling you that smoking is bad for you doesn’t reduce pollution produced by cigarette butts.

It is true that hearing it from someone else may make you feel ashamed of your unhealthy habits.

However, it’s much more likely that it will direct resentment from your own personal choice to the person publicly shaming you.

I see these ambassadors as the equivalent to teacher-chaperones at a Catholic school dance, warning you to “save room for Jesus” during slow dances.

At best, they’ll make smokers feel embarrassed to be caught in public.

At worst, they’ll be mocked when people roll their eyes or ignore them.

Besides the mutual embarrassment factor, this policy is misguided.

Though I see many cigarette butts around campus, it’s much rarer to see someone actually smoking in broad daylight.

Your basic drugstore cigarettes seem to be going out of style. Juuls and other vapes are more common among college students, with their higher nicotine content and variety of flavors.

Especially with Juuls, people often take a puff inside rather than going to a designated smoking area, making it harder for ambassadors to reach them.

To be clear, I am glad that SGA is taking steps to reduce pollution from cigarette butts and make UVM a more “green” school.

A paid ambassador position, though, is not only a waste of money, it is a waste of students’ time.

Save us all the embarrassment; stick to the ashtrays.

This story updated 12:23 p.m. March 4 to clarify that SGA does not support the cigarette ambassador job. The job was created by Harry Chen and is separate from SGA’s efforts.