Smoke-free learning a priority on Quincy-area college campuses

Posted: Jul. 7, 2012 7:53 pm Updated: Jul. 21, 2012 9:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

As more and more colleges around the country consider totally banning tobacco use on their campuses, at least one university in the Quincy area has already taken this trend to heart.

Hannibal-LaGrange University in Hannibal, Mo., already prohibits the use of tobacco in any form on its campus by students, staff, faculty and visitors. It even prohibits students from using tobacco off-campus while representing the university.

"This position is supported by safety regulations, the findings of medical science and the desire for a neat and clean campus," the university's student handbook says.

"It's a totally tobacco free environment," Carolyn Carpenter, HLGU's director of public relations, said. "I believe it goes back to our Baptist roots where smoking is not allowed."

A growing number of colleges across the country are going the same route by making their campuses smoke-free.

According to a recent story by the Associated Press, bans on use, advertising and sales of tobacco in all its forms are being enacted or considered at perhaps half of campuses nationwide -- sometimes over the objections of students, staff and faculty who smoke.

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.

Also adding fuel to the anti-smoking fire is the U.S. surgeon general's report for 2012, which says tobacco use among people ages 18 to 25 remains at epidemic proportions nationwide, the AP story reported.

According to data kept by the Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, 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, the AP reported.

In the Quincy area, Quincy University, John Wood Community College and Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Mo., all ban smoking inside the buildings on their campuses. However, all three institutions allow smoking outside.

QU and Culver-Stockton prohibit smoking within certain distances from the doors of campus buildings. JWCC goes even further and requires smokers and users of chewless tobacco to go behind campus buildings to specially designated smoking areas delineated by green lines painted on the pavement. Signs clearly indicate smoking is allowed only in those areas and nowhere else.

Bill LaTour, chief of campus police, said the designated smoking areas were created as part of a gradual evolution in the college's smoking policy.

When JWCC first moved to its current campus at 48th and Harrison, LaTour said, smoking was banned in all buildings, and smokers had to stay at least 50 feet away from the doors to campus buildings. This policy, however, didn't satisfy everyone -- particularly those who didn't like to walk into buildings and get a whiff of second-hand smoke.

Several years ago, LaTour said, a group of students approached college officials with a proposal to ban tobacco entirely from the JWCC campus. The proposal "met with resistance" by students, faculty and staff who smoke, LaTour said. So a compromise was reached.

This called for establishing the designated smoking areas behind the buildings. This was an important step, LaTour said, because the previous policy of banning smoking within 50 feet of doors was "too vague" and difficult for people to grasp. "People would fudge it all the time," he said.

In addition, the college put some enforcement teeth into its smoking policy by allowing campus security officers to issue citations to violators. A single violation requires a $15 fine.

After an educational campaign was launched to announce the new policy, the plan was put into effect two years ago.

"As soon as we did that, the complaints went way down, and the number of times that we have had to get involved in enforcing smoking violations has drastically decreased. So yes, it's been a success," LaTour said.

He said only one fine has been issued since the policy was launched. He said violations are rare because the designated smoking areas now are "so easy to follow" thanks to the green-painted stripes.

The lone citation was issued to a student "who was pushing it," LaTour said. "He was trying to see if we were really going to do something or not. He found out."

QU's smoking policy also seems to be working because few smoking-related issues have surfaced on campus, according to Jim Robesky, director of university communications.

"I see very, very little smoking here on the main campus," he said.

Robesky couldn't say if university officials have considered a total campuswide ban on smoking.

"I have not been in any of those kinds of conversations, but that's not to say that something like that is not happening," he said. "But I'm not privy to anything like that going on."

At Culver-Stockton College, likewise, smoking outside on campus has not been a big issue, according to Ash Sahni, coordinator of residence life.

"Typically we won't have people smoking right by the door," he said. "We usually don't have a problem with people complaining about it. I've been working here about a year, and I haven't heard any complaints about it."

Sahni said he has heard that many colleges and universities across the nation are contemplating a total ban on tobacco, but he hasn't heard if similar discussions have been under way among C-SC leaders.

He said smoking "is just not very prevalent" at Culver-Stockton. "I really very rarely will walk across campus and smell smoke on students or see students smoking. Only a handful of times have I really noticed it."

-- ehusar@whig.com/221-3378SNbS