A possible campuswide ban on tobacco products at the state’s public colleges and universities would force serious consideration because more than a quarter of adults aged 18-24 are smokers, area college officials said.
James Tuschman, chairman of the Ohio Board of Regents, told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer that he plans to introduce a resolution later this month asking the state’s public schools to ban tobacco, an effort driven in part by the chief executive of the Cleveland Clinic.
The decision to ban tobacco would fall to each school’s Board of Trustees.
Of the region’s schools, Miami University and Cedarville University already have campuswide bans.
Smoking is not allowed anywhere on Miami’s campus, while Cedarville doesn’t allow even possession of tobacco products.
A Middletown Journal survey of regional colleges showed a variety of policies in place, although all ban smoking inside buildings.
There are differences in the distance smokers must be from building entrances (usually 15 to 25 feet), availability of specific smoking areas and other specifics.
“We saw a pretty significant decrease (in smoking) when the policy went into place,” said Leslie Haxby McNeill, assistant director in the Office of Student Wellness at Miami University. “It can have an effect, and it needs serious consideration.”
The Ohio Department of Health last year produced a packet of information and suggestions for schools considering stronger policies against tobacco use. The ODH cited statistics showing that tobacco companies spend $724 million per year to market tobacco products in Ohio.
Officials said they hope stronger tobacco policies will stop beginning or increased smoking while students are on campuses. Nationally, 27 percent of people ages 18-24 are smokers, and 40 percent of college-age smokers began or increased smoking after starting college, according to the ODH.
Similar research helped influence Tuschman’s stance on tobacco, he told The Plain Dealer. A Board of Regents recommendation on tobacco use would be unique because it would enter into the student experience realm of campuses, said Dan Abrahamowicz, vice president for student affairs at Wright State University.
“Mostly they act in areas like switching to semesters or other administrative issues,” he said. “But this is the health dimension, safety dimension, social dimension. They have a concern about the welfare of our campuses, and I think it’s fine to have those suggestions.”
Regional schools said they would consider such a recommendation before taking any action. Student smokers said they would adjust if necessary.
“It’s not always necessary to smoke,” said Hulays Alzuraya, a 24-year-old Wright State senior from Saudi Arabia. “It’s just that sometimes people are on campus for 12 or 14 hours at a time, so it can help to smoke once or twice.”
Enforcing a ban
Cedarville’s ban on tobacco products has been in place for decades and accepted as a way of campus life for the Christian school. But other, larger student populations could have more trouble adjusting, said Cedarville spokesman John Davis.
“I think it goes back to a shared core value,” he said. “For an Ohio State, whose students have different values, it’s hard for them to wrestle with what we have in place, which is based on what we believe the Scripture says about how we treat our bodies.
“We’re looking at it from a biblical perspective. I doubt they will. They will look at it for how it affects someone else in a health perspective.”
Aside from her work at Miami, McNeill is also Ohio coordinator for The BACCHUS Network, a nationwide student organization focused on health and safety. She said it’s important for any school to have an enforcement plan in place before changing any policy.
McNeill said some students or administrators are not comfortable reporting violations by others.
That can be easier on smaller campuses like Wittenberg University, said Mark DeVilbiss, Wittenberg’s associate dean for residence life.
No matter the policy, school officials said, setting a community standard that is followed is important.
“It would be a good thing if they will enforce it or find a way to make enforcement happen,” McNeill said of the possible campuswide tobacco bans.
“To make a policy you can’t enforce is not helpful.”