As MSU gears up to rid campus of tobacco with the help of the newly formed tobacco-free task force, international students are reflecting on what that could mean for them.
At last week’s ASMSU meeting, Asian Pacific American Students Organization representative Kyle Parent brought up points from his constituents who feel ostracized on campus. He expressed concern for the possible tobacco ban on campus and its possible effect on Asian international students.
In 2013 The State News reported MSU enrolled 4,283 Chinese students, 563 Korean students, and 276 Indian international students, which are all countries that have far more permissive regulations when it comes to tobacco.
“I think that smoking in a lot of Asian countries is looked at very differently than how it is looked at in the U.S.,” Director of MSU Asian Studies Center Siddharth Chandra said. “We (the U.S.) have regulated tobacco more firmly than a lot of countries in Asia, and so I think the prevalence of smoking is much higher in a country like China.”
Nearly half of adult males smoke tobacco in China, he said.
It is obvious smoking is a public health concern around the world and still contributes to the death of an estimated 443,000 Americans every year according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But Asian international students who enroll at MSU face significant differences in people’s views of tobacco when they arrive in East Lansing, and this can contribute to a feeling of exclusion and negativity.
“Certainly a feeling like (Asian students) are judged. ... In the U.S. smoking is more stigmatized and we think more negatively at smoking, which isn’t really the case in Asia, and that cultural change can sometimes create a feeling of discomfort among Asian students,” Chandra said.
And some Asian students are feeling that discomfort.
“Most of my friends just stay with other international students, and we really only come to campus for class, but I don’t think people like us when we are smoking,” finance junior Dongze Wang said.
The tobacco task force at MSU, headed by the University Physician’s Office, has not created a tobacco ban on campus yet, but is currently working on a plan to transition MSU to a tobacco-free campus as early as this summer.
“My only concern is that I would have to go off campus and somewhere far away just to smoke,” freshman Chinese international student David Wang said. “I feel like it’s taking away our right. ... It’s only bad for the people who smoke.”
Although some Asian international students are concerned about the possible tobacco ban effects, Chandra believes the university is taking them into consideration during this process.
“I think the university administration is very aware of the contribution our Asian students add to the culture and the intellectual life at the university,” he said. “I think as the number of international students has grown, the university has also grown to embrace what it sees as its responsibility to ensure that Asian students are as much ... a part of our student body as anyone else from anywhere in the world.”