IU prides itself on preparing undergraduates for the job market. Whether students want to be doctors, lawyers or mindless puppets for big tobacco, they can find their future employers at IU career fairs.
IU offered its Winter Career and Internship Fair for the College of Arts and Sciences on Feb. 11. One employer at the event was Altria, a company that promotes “moving beyond smoking,” which is another way of marketing e-vape devices. Altria was also present at the Kelley School of Business career fair Feb. 15 and the 2021 IU Virtual Diversity and Internship Fair on Thursday.
Many campuses, including IU, claim to be a “tobacco free campus,” and that should include companies that sell tobacco. IU should enact additional requirements for employers at career fairs to make sure companies like Altria are not given a platform on campus.
There are little to no guidelines for which companies can market themselves to students at IU career and internship fairs, Walter Center employer relations director William Reed said in an email.
IU doesn’t necessarily choose which employers attend career fairs, Reed said. Although there are “recruitment guidelines,” including not making students pay a fee or take out a line of credit for employment with the intent of protecting students, the university will offer the opportunity to any employer who is interested in recruiting IU students.
Based on the guidelines, there is nothing prohibiting companies marketing illegal substances for underage students — something the career fair should change. On a campus that claims to be “tobacco free,” there needs to be action behind those words, starting with banning tobacco companies like Altria from career fairs.
Altria sells, owns and markets the newer, sleeker e-cigarette products like Juul, as well as established traditional tobacco company Marlboro.
On its website, Altria claims to provide three main things to consumers and prospective workers — superior sensory experiences, reduced health risks and the avoidance of public isolation associated with cigarettes. All are good goals for a company marketing lung cancer.
There are real dangers that come with vaping, even though many students don’t acknowledge the risks.
In 2019, 22% of college students in a study at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said they had vaped in the past month. The number has increased drastically from only 6.1% in 2017. Michigan claims to be a smoke-free campus.
Universities with smoke-free campuses need to be willing to make changes to support their students now. With a 260.6% increase in e-vape and e-cigarette use in only two years, according to the Michigan study, universities need to be more careful and caring — especially when planning events explicitly for students, such as career fairs.
I frequently used e-cigarette and e-vape devices until December 2020, when I downloaded the app Quit-Vaping and was able to track my progress and stop. It has been 56 days since I last vaped, and all of it was done underage.
In September 2019, former President Donald Trump changed the U.S. tobacco smoking age from 18 to 21, making Altria products illegal for more than half the students who attend the career fairs.
The career and internship fairs conducted on campus should reflect the values the university holds. To allow a tobacco company — one which heavily markets e-vaping devices to underage — on a “tobacco free” campus, is not only immoral but shows neglect from IU. It would be the same as a Chick-fil-A advertising at Pride — tasteless and out of place.
IU needs to add more requirements for career fair attendance to reflect its values as a school. To attend any IU career or internship fair, employers must currently pay a fee per-fair to the university, one that differs based on the income of said company. For example, a non-profit would pay a different amount to attend than a big corporate empire, Reed said. It should take more than a check to be able to market any company to IU students.
If IU wants credibility as a “tobacco free” university and trust from parents and students, it needs to put students, not companies, first. Altria, and its products, should not be present at a career fair on a tobacco free campus. For IU to include Altria is to put its students last, something that I fear isn’t going to change anytime soon.
Curren Gauss (she/her) is a sophomore majoring in theater and English. She is currently a member of the Queer Student Union.