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Kent State Reviewing Tobacco-Free Campus Issue

Ohio colleges weigh smoking ban at recommendation of Board of Regents

Kent State Reviewing Tobacco-Free Campus Issue Kent State Reviewing Tobacco-Free Campus Issue

By the end of this academic year students at Kent State University should have an idea whether or not the campus is moving towards a smoke-free policy.

University administrators are in the midst of reviewing a recommendation from the Ohio Board of Regents, issued this summer, suggesting all public universities and colleges in Ohio ban the use of tobacco products on their campuses.

At Kent State, students can expect to get a survey by the end of this semester gauging their opinion about the idea of completely banning smoking on campus.

Greg Jarvie, vice president of enrollment management and student affairs, is co-charing a committee with Willis Walker, vice president of human resources, comprised of about 20 faculty, staff and students to consider the issue.

Jarvie said the committee should be able to make some suggestions to the president's cabinet by the end of this year about how to respond to the board of regents recommendation and whether or not Kent State should ban tobacco use on campus.

"We really want to focus on what our students think," Jarvie said. "We have to listen to everybody."

Tell us what you think. Take our poll on the issue here.

Kent State's existing tobacco policy adheres to state law, which prohibits smoking inside all public buildings.  The university policy also permits smoking in outdoor areas provided smokers are no closer than 20 feet to doors, windows, vents and other building entrances.

"We have this 20-foot rule," Jarvie said. "I will emphatically say that does not work. The devil’s in the details, that’s really what the issue is on this one. Because we need to figure out if we are going to go smoke free, what does that mean.”

Kent State only has to look a few miles south from its main campus to see a completely smoke-free policy in action.

In Rootstown, OH, at the campus of the Northeast Ohio Medical University, students and staff learned in September that by Nov. 1, this past Thursday, their tobacco-free campus policy would take effect.

Richard Lewis, secretary to the board of trustees for NEOMED, said banning tobacco use completely on campus made sense for them because it is a wholly medical institution.

"Based upon the significance and negative implications of what tobacco does to people’s health, ranging from direct usage to passive inhalation, and the cancerous results to folks who experience passive inhalation, we felt we were at the point to consider restricting it completely on campus," Lewis said.

NEOMED's policy prohibits students and staff from even possessing tobacco products — that means you can't even have it in your car — while on campus.

Lewis said they're not searching people's cars for cigarettes, and NEOMED is phasing the new policy in with the restrictions to take full effect by Jan. 1, 2013.

"We’re not going to be going out of our way to find out if somebody has tobacco products with them," he said. "Our primary concern is if someone lights up on campus and continues to light up. What folks do off campus is their business."

The medical college offers smoking cessation programs — something Kent State already does — to help those who want to quit smoking. And to coincide with a new recreation center under construction the health college plans to incorporate personal wellness education and preventive medicine into the programs there.

"We’re trying to help people understand that anything that is abused can come back to haunt you later in life," Lewis said.

Kent State faces different challenges when compared with NEOMED. At the main campus, about 6,000 Kent State students live in residence halls during the school year with hundreds more living on campus year-round.

"That’s a pretty sizable population, so if you’ve got a percentage of those folks who smoke … it puts it into perspective," Jarvie said. "Those are the things we have to think about."

Kent State's College of Public Health surveyed Kent campus students in the spring of 2011 and found 25 percent of undergraduate students smoked, which amounted to about 5,100 students at the time.

Jarvie said if you apply that percentage to incoming classes and consider Kent State has recently had average incoming freshman classes of 4,000 students, the university could potentially have close to 1,000 new smokers coming to the Kent campus each year.

"There’s no doubt it could have an affect on enrollment," Jarvie said. "We have to be fair to everybody."

Along with the survey, the university's tobacco-use committee will conduct focus groups in an effort to determine what the campus community thinks should be done.

At the least, the university may do nothing or simply update its existing smoking policy. Or administrators could recommend a complete ban on tobacco use — something Kent State's Board of Trustees would have the final decision on.

Jarvie said any such action likely wouldn't happen until possibly January of 2014. Any decision would apply to all eight Kent State campuses.

Kent's cross-town sports rival, the University of Akron, is taking a somewhat less aggressive approach to the Board of Regents recommendation.

Sarah Lane, spokesperson for the University of Akron, said the university has no immediate plans to change its smoking policy.

"The (university) board of trustees adopted a policy that complies with the current state smoking law," she said. "No further discussion is underway."

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