More U.S. Colleges Moving to Ban Tobacco
Ohio higher education officials vote to prohibit smoking on public campuses
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Approximately half of the college campuses nationwide are enacting or considering bans on use, advertising and sales of tobacco in all its forms, sometimes over the objections of student smokers, staff and faculty, reported the Associated Press.
The movement is driven by mounting evidence of the health risks of secondhand smoke, the reduced costs of smoke-free dorms and a drive to minimize enticements to smoke at a critical age for forming lifelong habits, said the report.
California’s state system will begin to bar tobacco use in 2013. A ban on use and advertising at the City University of New York system goes into effect in September, and the University of Missouri at Columbia is going smoke-free in 2014.
The Ohio Board of Regents voted last week to ban tobacco use on public campuses (click here to view the meeting). That includes Ohio State, one of the nation’s largest universities, which currently bans only indoor smoking.
Health and education officials, anti-smoking groups and a generation of students who grew up smoke-free are increasingly united on the issue, according to Bronson Frick, associate director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.
“There are many reasons why a college or university may choose to pursue this type of policy, whether secondhand smoke, dorm fires or other issues,” he told AP. “They are also questioning what the role of tobacco is in this academic setting, where we’re supposed to be standing for truth and training the next generation of leaders.”
According to data kept by the nonsmokers group, campus tobacco bans have risen from virtually zero a decade ago to 711 today. That includes both four-year and two-year institutions, both public and private.
One of the first campuses to ban tobacco was Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield, Mo., which endorsed the move in 1999 and put it in place four years later. The school also established a research center that works with other colleges and hospitals pursuing similar moves, now known as the National Center for Tobacco Policy.
Ty Patterson, the center’s director, said Ozarks quickly realized that its previous policy of allowing smoking in designated outdoor areas was impractical and couldn’t be properly enforced. Forbidding all tobacco use was deemed to be more effective than simply saying no to cigarette smoke, he told the news agency.
While precise statistics on the number of campuses curtailing tobacco are elusive, Patterson estimated that one-third to one-half of all higher education institutions have either made the move or are considering it.
Smoking rights advocate Audrey Silk, founder of New York Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, says any outdoor ban–whether for a campus, beach or public park–is an attack on the rights of one segment of the population.
“This isn’t a health issue anymore. It’s a moral issue,” she told AP. “There’s absolutely zero reason for a smoking ban outdoors. They use it as a tool. Harm from smoke outdoors is an excuse to frustrate smokers into quitting because they can’t find a place to light up.”
Silk says it’s not the place of schools to enforce health issues. “Schools are a business,” she said. “Who assigned them the role of behavior modification? It’s their responsibility to educate. What they’re doing is indoctrinating.”
Tobacco companies have also questioned the role of universities to take such steps. With limited lobbying power at the college level, they have pursued legislation in some states to pre-empt tobacco-control decisions from occurring at any but the state level.
A spokesperson for Richmond, Va.-based Philip Morris USA Inc., the nation’s largest tobacco company, deferred comment to the company website, which states that some smoking restrictions are justified but that all-out bans “go too far.”
“Smoking should be permitted outdoors except in very particular circumstances, such as outdoor areas primarily designed for children,” it states.