This past November, Breathe Easy Cape Girardeau collected enough signatures on an initiative petition to earn a proposed citywide smoking ban a place on the April ballot.
According to their website capebreatheasy.com, the organization was formed by citizens in 2007 and is "dedicated to raising awareness of the danger of secondhand smoke and the need for a smoke-free Cape Girardeau." In addition, the group works to "educate the community and provide support needed to ensure access to a smoke-free environment for citizens living and working in the city."
If the initiative passes, Cape Girardeau will join a growing list of U.S. cities and states that currently ban smoking in all restaurants, bars and indoor public spaces. According to the group Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, as of Jan. 2, 2011, 24 states and 447 American cities have 100 percent smoke-free laws in place.
Southeast senior Michele Austell, who is a non-smoker, says although she believes smokers shouldn't be punished for choosing to smoke, the potential implementation of 100 percent smoke-free laws in Cape Girardeau would make the experience of going out to restaurants and bars more enjoyable.
"I think that it's a good idea to have designated smoking sections in restaurants and bars, and even outdoors. But, at no fault of the smoker, the smoke is never contained within those designated areas," Austell said. "I don't have a problem with the current arrangement, however I am for the ban as it will take away the bothersome aspect of trying to "go out" and not smell like I've just been to hell when I return home. Keeping designated smoking sections outside would be fine though."
Southeast senior Michael Morgan, also a non-smoker, says the ban would be a welcome change if passed.
"I like the ban. I don't think you should be able to smoke in public, enclosed places," Morgan said. "I don't smoke because I don't like the smell of it and being around smokers when you're out to eat or in a bar means you go home smelling like it. Plus you're forced to inhale it, which isn't good for you."
The campus of Southeast joined the national trend when, in Aug. 2009, the university introduced its own smoking policy that moved smoking out of campus buildings to outdoor designated areas.
In addition, a student smoking lounge, formerly located in the Towers complex, has been closed. According to Associate Director for Residence Life Kendra Whitcher-Skinner the lounge's closure was unrelated to Southeast's smoking policy and any potential citywide smoking ban.
"The lounge's closing is nothing new. It's been closed for some time now and as far as I know it was closed due to vandalism and misuse by students. It had nothing to do with a potential smoking ban," Whitcher-Skinner said.
As a result of Southeast's current smoking regulations students will notice little difference on campus if Cape Girardeau citizens vote to pass the proposed smoking ban this coming April. The same cannot be said for student smokers who enjoy going out to bars and restaurants in their free time and who may suddenly find it necessary to make frequent exits out to the curb in order to enjoy a cigarette.
Southeast junior Amanda Wolfe, who is a smoker, says although she understands why smoking has been banned in campus buildings, banning smoking in public places such as bars and restaurants is taking things too far.
"I don't think they (Cape Girardeau) should ban smoking completely. There's been so much concern about the health aspect of the smoking ban, but I think there are other things that are more harmful," Wolfe said. "We are constantly hearing about how junk food is bad for you and you don't see a ban on Doritos."
Wolfe adds that a 100 percent smoke-free law would have no effect on her choice to continue smoking.
"We should have the right to decide what we do to our own bodies. I only smoke around other smokers or people who are okay with it and just because the city decides not to allow smoking indoors doesn't mean I'm suddenly going to decide to quit," Wolfe said. "I think we should have the right to make our own choice and not be forced into a decision by a ban."