Friday, October 3, 2014

As Georgia colleges ban tobacco, some schools still considering options

As 31 Georgia universities adopt a ban on all tobacco products, colleges in and near Augusta support the measure but students remain unsure the bans will stop smoking on campus. All colleges that are part of the University System of Georgia went smoke-free on Wednesday, banning all tobacco-related products from their campuses. The ban, which includes e-cigarettes, hookahs and “all forms of smokeless tobacco,” will prevent anyone from using tobacco products while on campus property, according to the university system’s tobacco policy page. However, smokers may continue to buy cigarettes online.

Visitors who violate the policy could be asked to leave campus, and students that continue to use products despite the ban could be sanctioned under the school’s Student Code of Conduct. Many colleges are readying “smoke cessation” programs designed to help students, staff and faculty members quit smoking. About 1,500 colleges nationwide have adopted smoke-free policies, according to the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights organization.

Campuses in the Augusta area that already have similar programs in place said the bans are a step in the right direction. Georgia Regents University’s medical college and Summerville campus have adhered to smoking and tobacco product bans for several years. The medical college banned smoking in 2007, and when GRU consolidated in 2013, all campuses agreed to adopt an updated tobacco product policy, which included a ban on e-cigarettes.

Director of Cancer Information and Awareness Christine O’Meara, who worked on a committee to help create the system’s new tobacco product policy, said the college’s ban protected students, faculty and staff from health problems later in life.

“It’s important for everyone here to have a healthy environment to work and study in. Our North Star is promoting health and preventing disability and death, which tobacco products cause,” O’Meara said. “Working to promote these bans helps establish a good example for future public health officials to follow, which is something we definitely want our students to see.”

O’Meara said the next step for the campus’s tobacco product ban is complete compliance. While “a large part of the student population” supports the ban, according to school surveys, there are small percentages of students who still use tobacco on the school campus.

“It’s a cultural change for the Summerville campus. And change of that nature can come very slowly,” O’Meara said. “But we are working to educate our students and faculty about the policy. We will be showing videos to our population here on how to approach people kindly and inform them about the campus’s policies.”

GRU campuses do not use a fine levying system. Instead, they use students and faculty members to voluntarily approach those violating the ban and inform them of the school’s tobacco policy. If an individual refuses, students can call public safety or the college’s “compliance hotline” to report them.

For the University of South Carolina Aiken campus, which does not have a tobacco ban in place yet, the bans are an example to follow.
USC Aiken Chancellor Sandra Jordan said the campus currently restricts where students can smoke, and is exploring a complete tobacco ban as part of a healthy lifestyle initiative, planned to go into effect in the fall of 2015. Jordan said the “vast majority” of students want tobacco bans in place at the school.

“We’ve sent out surveys to our student population, and around 75 to 78 percent of survey takers think a ban would help improve their lives on campus, so we know our population wants it to happen here. We’ve also found that those who smoke on campus started their habit during their freshman or sophomore year. That’s not a culture we want,” Jordan said. “In order to foster healthy lifestyles among our students, a tobacco product ban is very important to have.”

Jordan said she “applauded” Georgia colleges for adopting tobacco bans, saying it placed them “in the vanguard” of colleges hoping to improve their students’ lives. “It’s a forward looking approach,” Jordan said. “Most universities are on track for putting bans like this in place over the next five years, according to what I’ve heard. This means that Georgia is really making gains ahead of other colleges.”

While many students at USC Aiken feel the ban could be beneficial to the campus, some are skeptical of how well the ban will be enforced. “It’s definitely good overall for students’ health, especially considering secondhand smoke,” 18-year-old Rina Lowder said. “But I’m not sure the ban could be really enforced or be fair to those that do smoke. I don’t know if it will really encourage anyone to quit.”

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