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Progress Watch

Smoking bans: Tobacco-free college campuses on rise in US

Many US college campuses are becoming tobacco-free as US schools institute total bans, indoors and out, on cigarettes and related products. Some smokers say the bans infringe on their choices.    

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“Institutions for learning exist for the purpose of education, not indoctrination – especially where the students are of adult age,” wrote Audrey Silk, founder of New York Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, in an email.

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Some students are also questioning the role of universities to regulate completely legal behavior.

Audrey Imes, a junior at Ohio University in Athens, doubted whether the school could justifiably implement the Board of Regents’ proposed tobacco policy. When she smokes on campus, she says, it’s a personal decision. 

“I have a right to be a smoker,” Ms. Imes says, adding that smoking would probably be pushed to the peripheries of campus, in places like bars and off-campus apartments. 

But smokers are fighting an uphill battle.

The Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland green-lighted its policy out of a concern for the health dangers of smoking and a consensus that the smoking bans already in place at three of its colleges were a “nonissue,” USM spokesman Mike Lurie says. 

“Presidents of institutions where a campus-wide ban had not been in place were looking with admiration at other campuses that had gone in that direction,” Mr. Lurie says.

About 45 million, or 19.3 percent, of all American adults smoke cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Out of 27,774 students surveyed at 44 two- and four-year colleges, 4.6 percent smoked every day in the past 30 days, a 2011 American College Health Association report found. About 14 percent smoked at least once in the past 30 days. 

Under most of the bans, violations yield light, if any, punitive action. Repeat offenders sometimes face university disciplinary measures, which differ among schools. 

Enforcement is usually not heavy-handed either. It mostly comes from the students themselves, many of whom just don’t want to be around cigarette smoke. 

At the University of Kentucky in Lexington, a group of faculty and students, part of the Tobacco-Free Take Action volunteer group, approach smokers and request they put out their cigarette. They also offer resources to help the smoker quit. 

“You have to create an environment where violating the policy just isn’t cool,” says Ellen Hahn, director of the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy, based in Lexington. “It’s not what’s expected.”

Kentucky has one of the highest rates of adult smoking in the county – 25 percent – and the campus ban has had a positive impact on efforts by some to quit. Since the ban, 11 campus tobacco users per month on average have sought to quit smoking, compared with 3 before the ban, Ms. Hahn says.


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