COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio higher education officials voted unanimously Monday to urge the state’s public campuses to ban all sales and use of tobacco products, including smoking outdoors.
The Ohio Board of Regents’ resolution comes after a review showed such policies bring health benefits to both smokers and nonsmokers and cut costs for education institutions, said chairman James Tuschman.
Tuschman said Ohio can set an example, since it often serves as a test market for new tobacco products aimed at young people.
“It is the right thing to do,” he said.
The Regents’ recommendation extends to all Ohio’s campuses, including Ohio State, one of the nation’s largest universities. Currently, OSU bans only indoor smoking and some outdoor smoking around its health facilities. The university said Monday it will review the issue.
At least seven public colleges or universities in Ohio currently have tobacco bans, including Miami University, Hocking College, and the health science campus of the University of Toledo.
Regent Patricia Ackerman said she backed the resolution “as someone who smoked my first cigarette at age 14, as someone who went to college and viewed as a true act of liberation making that first official act of freedom purchasing a pack of cigarettes.”
Statistics show Ackerman was not alone: 40 percent of smokers either begin or become regular smokers starting in college.
The board is led by Chancellor Jim Petro, who picked up the smoking habit on campus.
“I began smoking in college and continued to smoke for 40 years. It has adversely affected my health,” said Petro who was diagnosed in 2009 with laryngeal cancer that could have been caused by smoking. He is cancer-free now. “By approving this resolution and recommending that policies be implemented on our campuses, the Board of Regents can have a significant and positive effect on a student’s life.”
Ohio Health Director Ted Wymyslo said reaching young people is critical. Ohio, like many states, has cut funding to his smoking prevention programs amid several years of tight budgets.
“It’s particularly important to get to that younger age and stop that habit that we’ve seen,” he said. “That means we have to have a culture change.”
The state Health Department has prepared model policies and tips to help colleges and universities implement tobacco-free policies but the decision will ultimately be up to each institution’s board of trustees.
Such bans can include outdoor smoking, smoking in vehicles, use of chewing tobacco and candy-style products on campus, and prohibitions against tobacco sales and advertising. Perhaps half of campuses nationwide have enacted or are considering going tobacco free, sometimes over the objections of student smokers, staff and faculty.
Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights says campus tobacco bans have risen from virtually zero a decade ago to 711 today. That includes both four-year and two-year in-stitutions, both public and private.
Bruce Johnson, executive director of the Inter-University Council representing Ohio’s 14 public universities, said the institutions are all concerned about the health and safety of their students, but they have to weigh that against respect of the personal choices of students, faculty and staff.
“A university campus is a place that attracts a lot of different types of people from a lot of different cultures from all around the world,” he said. “So they have to consider that when they do things that ban any type of activity on campus.”
Surveys have found that enrollment most often either remains flat or rises on campuses that impose tobacco bans.
Michael Roizen, director of wellness programs at The Cleveland Clinic, recommended participating institutions make free smoking prevention classes available to students and staff, hold campus contests to name the awareness campaign, and begin in three years to hire only nonsmokers.