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Back to school, smokelessly


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University of Montana President Royce Engstrom made a bold statement in the Montana Theater on Friday, Aug. 26. He seemed to build on George Dennison's 21st and final state of the university address last fall, during which Dennison wore a maroon tie. Engstrom's tie was maroon-and-silver.

Gone was the annual promise of more housing for the crowded campus population. In its place was the promise of increasing admissions standards by 2014, and a vow to re-brand and aggressively market UM.

Engstrom also voiced some familiar complaints. UM's student-to-faculty ratio is an unacceptable 22 to 1, he pointed out, and "our faculty salaries are not as competitive as they should be." He tempered the downside by highlighting UM's new tobacco-free campus policy, which, he vowed, "will contribute to a healthier and more enjoyable campus environment."

The next afternoon, about 30 students clustered around hookahs, tobacco pipes and packs of Camel Crush cigarettes on the Oval. Sophomore Derreck Cumin dubbed it the Great Missoulian Smoke-up, a gathering designed to peacefully protest the new policy Engstrom touted. Smokers came and smokers went, but the sentiment was clear.

"To each their own," said Missoula native and UM freshman Lily Elison. Her words of protest were accented by fruit-scented hookah smoke. "They make this beautiful place for us to be, and they won't [let us be], you know?"

Cumin put the call out via Facebook and flyers for campus smokers to congregate on the Oval the day before the tobacco ban started. Those gathered acknowledged the annoyance their habit creates for non-smokers but panned the ban for lack of an on-campus smoking area for students and staff rushing between classes. The ban will likely strain relations with nearby residents suddenly faced with a glut of street-side smokers, Cumin said, though Cumin himself said he plans to continue smoking on his way to class.

If UM wants to create a healthier environment, Elison added, why not ban Coke machines?

"Doesn't the [University Center] Market sell cigarettes?" asked another young woman puffing on a hookah.

Not anymore.


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