By Adam Ganucheau/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The University of Mississippi’s smoking ban went into effect in August, but only this month have officials started enforcing it with $25 fines.
As the Ole Miss policy moves from the warning to the stepped-up enforcement phase, the university joins three other Southeastern Conference schools that have adopted campus-wide smoking bans. They are Arkansas, Florida and Kentucky.
Mississippi State University, meanwhile, is considering a similar policy.
“We adopted the smoke-free policy because the previous smoking areas were not keeping non-smokers on our campus safe,” said Shannon Richardson, co-chair of the Smoke-Free Campus Implementation Committee at Ole Miss. “It’s to prevent the non-smoker’s health from being harmed. It will take time for the ban to work.”
That was the experience at the University of Kentucky. UK officials say that while there was initial opposition and other hurdles to overcome, a tobacco-free policy in the heart of the “Tobacco State” has accomplished its intended effect since being enacted in November 2009.
“We’ve seen that the tobacco-free policy has worked effectively,” said Ellen Hahn, co-chair of Kentucky’s Tobacco-Free Task Force. “We’ve also seen a four-fold increase in people using our cessation opportunities like free nicotine patches and gum. The smoking hot spots on campus are becoming fewer and fewer.”
Ole Miss previously had designated smoking areas. University officials say the ban is a result of smokers breaching those areas and exposing other students to secondhand smoke.
Since the ban took effect in August, university officials have issued warnings to violators. On Jan. 1, the warning system ceased and the ticketing system officially began.
Across the state at SEC rival Mississippi State, current policy allows people to smoke anywhere on campus, as long as it is at least 25 feet from buildings. A similar smoke-free policy to Ole Miss’ may already be in the works.
In December, Vice President of Student Affairs Bill Kibler proposed a plan for MSU to become smoke-free by August 2014. MSU’s administration is currently reviewing that plan in the wake of public forums that occurred on campus in December.
“The existing tobacco policy remains in place as of right now,” said Sid Salter, director of MSU Relations. “The conversation about changing the policy will continue in the coming months.”
Opposition groups on the Ole Miss campus, including students, staff and faculty members, have voiced their concerns through opposition groups and even town hall-style meetings.
“I feel that the university is infringing upon people’s right to smoke if they want to,” said non-smoker Deborah Smith, who is a senior accountant in the Ole Miss bursar’s office. “We have staff members at Ole Miss who work eight hours a day and can’t leave to smoke a cigarette. Now they don’t even have designated areas to smoke in.”
Universities typically make the decision for one of two reasons: to protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke or to encourage healthier living for students.
“We weren’t trying to make smokers healthier,” Richardson said. “People walking on our campus often had no other choice but to breathe in smoke from smokers violating the rules. We just couldn’t allow it any longer.”
Similar to the University of Kentucky, smoking cessation options are at Ole Miss for people who want to quit, and Richardson said the program has already been used.
• Itawamba Community College, January 2011
• Northwest Mississippi Community College, July 2011
• Northeast Mississippi Community College, January 2012
Policy applies to Grove tailgaters
OXFORD – Thousands off campus visitors will be affected by the Ole Miss smoking ban when tailgating in the Grove on game days in the fall.
“The smoking ban will never be our first priority on game days, but we also can’t ignore it,” University Police Chief Calvin Sellers said. “It will take more time for people in the Grove to obey, and it all will be an educational process.”
UPD is responsible for patrolling the Grove and stadiumon game days. Officers patrolled the Grove during the 2012 football season while the
university’s warning system was still in effect. Now tailgaters could face fines, like everyone else, for smoking.
“Everything is different for us on game days, so all I can say is that we are going to do everything we can to effectively patrol the Grove,” Sellers said.