OU Trustees To Hear About Tobacco-Free Initiative

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An Ohio University administrator isn't blowing smoke when it comes to implementing a tobacco ban on campus.

OU’s Vice President for Student Affairs Ryan Lombardi plans to present an overview of the school’s tobacco-free task force Thursday to the university’s Board of Trustees.

Lombardi said he’ll be telling the Board that the goal is to make OU tobacco-free within in the next three years.

“We’re not presenting policy at this point,” he said. “What I am going to tell them is that we want to be tobacco-free in three years. We haven’t gone through the nitty gritty of how we’re going to enforce it or implement it. The hope is to figure it out this coming year and phase these things in. We don’t want to go cold turkey with it.”

Lombardi created the task force after the Ohio Board of Regents passed a resolution advocating for the establishment of tobacco-free college and university campuses at all of Ohio’s public institutions of higher education.

According to an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, nearly 1,200 colleges nationwide have gone tobacco or smoke-free. Many universities in Ohio have already initiated tobacco-free policies or are working in that direction; including Ohio State University, University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University, Central State University, to name a few.

The idea originated after representatives from the Cleveland Clinic outlined potential health and economic benefits of banning tobacco products to the Ohio Board of Regents. Tim Burke, member of the Ohio Board of Regents, said the presentation was “powerful,” and the decision to pass the resolution was unanimous.

“Given the massive amount of information out there right now, campuses have a lot to gain by implementing this policy in terms of health benefits for employees, cost of medical treatment and so on,” he said.

Burke, who was a smoker at one point, said he thinks the ban will have a substantial impact on young adults.

“It’s certainly my experience and the experience of a lot of college students that there’s a lot of peer pressure, and that’s one element of the ban. It helps to eliminate some of that peer pressure,” he said. “Everyone is taking a look at it, some are moving more quickly than others.”  

OU is moving slowly. With no concrete plan in mind at this point, Lombardi said he is considering what resources will be provided and how to create funds for such resources. Some strategies include cessation material, signs and various campus outreach groups aimed at educating students and staff about the negative effects of tobacco use.

Miami University is the only college in the state that bans smoking and the sale of cigarettes everywhere on campus. Claire Wagner, director of news and communications, says the tobacco-free initiative was an extension of a smoke-free ban that was implemented in 2008. Wagner said the campus provides materials, guidelines and has a website to remind students and staff that they can't use tobacco while on school property. Some of the materials explain how people can politely remind those seen lighting up that the campus is tobacco-free.

Wagner said the school has seen some success. How much success OU will see in implementing the policy is yet to be determined, and the idea is getting mixed reviews by students.

“I mean, I’ll probably continue to do it,” OU student Erin Forman said. “I don’t judge you for not smoking, so why should people be allowed to judge me for smoking? Why can’t we all just coexist?”

OU junior Nick Caviolo is not a smoker but is still against the ban.

“Off-campus is so close to on-campus that I just don’t know how they are going to be able to enforce it,” he said. “If it’s legal to buy then people should be allowed to use it.”

But some students do see potential benefits. Teaira Ridgeway works at Alden Library on campus, where smokers are often seen puffing outside the second and fourth floor entrances. She says cigarette smoke interferes with her asthma.

“I think it’s a great idea! Smoking inhibits our air quality and it’s rude when people are blowing smoke in your direction,” she said.

Lombardi said he is sympathetic to smokers and that is one reason the task force is taking its time.

“I understand that for people who are addicted to nicotine and tobacco it’s not an easy thing to change,” he said. “So we want to make sure we have everything sorted out before we move forward.”  

The Board of Trustees meets Thursday and Friday in Columbus. Find out more information about the Ohio Board of Regents' tobacco-free resolution here