Ole Miss set to go smoke-free

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – As of Jan. 1, 2013, the University of Mississippi’s Oxford campus will officially become smoke-free, when a new policy goes into effect.
“Smoking is prohibited at all times, and at all locations of The University of Mississippi Oxford campus, including University-owned facilities, properties and grounds,” the newly approved policy states. “This policy applies to all faculty, staff, students, visitors and contractors.”
The policy also forbids littering the campus with the remains of any tobacco products, whether smoke-related or not, and prohibits the advertising, sale or distribution of tobacco.
“The policy … has had a long journey to this point,” said Leslie Banahan, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs. “This began with students and an ASB (Associated Student Body) resolution.”
Chancellor Dan Jones, a physician and former vice chancellor for health affairs, quickly approved the idea and appointed a committee to enact the proposal. The policy is several months from enforcement, but it will be posted on www.olemiss.edu/smokefree within weeks, Banahan said.
Ole Miss buildings have been smoke-free for decades, but outdoor smoking was restricted to designated zones a few years ago. The failure of that policy led to the campuswide ban.
“People didn’t stay in the designated areas. The idea was that designated smoking areas would be away from pedestrian traffic, and those areas tended to be inconvenient,” Banahan said. “Police thought a smoke-free campus would be a much easier thing for them to enforce.”
While cigarette butts often mar the award-winning campus landscaping, it was concern about health issues more than aesthetics that drove the ASB’s call for a smoke-free campus. One prime example was the cloud of smoke that often envelopes the west entrance of the John D. Williams Library, where many smokers, in clear violation of the rule, congregate under the portico.
“We’ve had some incidents where we’ve had some prospective students visiting and getting asthma attacks from walking through smoke,” Banahan said.
Several students and others queried on campus Friday seemed either supportive of a smoke-free policy or at least not strongly opposed.
“That’s awesome!” said Ashton Walters, a senior biochemistry and biology major from Pascagoula, when she heard the proposal. “I feel like it would be a good idea, because when you’re walking to and from class you don’t always want to smell cigarette smoke, and it’s kind of dangerous for your health.”
Grant Butler, a junior mechanical engineering major from Memphis, said he looks forward to the extinction of discarded butts.
“It’ll help keep the campus clean. It’s intended to be elegant, it’s meant to be classy, so I think it’ll help that image,” he said.
Catherine Simmons, a research associate from Panama, said the move will be good for nonsmokers like herself and for the campus environment, but she worried that it might drive some students away.
“I have some friends that smoke, especially foreign people, and they feel like it’s really hard to manage this situation. In their countries smoking is more open, more common,” she said. “I think some will transfer somewhere else. It’s going to make it hard for them to continue, but some will find a way.”
Hunter Stacks of Nettleton, who recently transferred from Itawamba Community College, will be a junior in physics this fall at Ole Miss.
“I came from ICC, and they already went smoke-free. It really didn’t stop anybody from smoking; they just went to their vehicles to hide it,” he said. “They don’t understand addiction. No one’s going to stop just because of some policy set by the university. That’s a decision they have to make on their own.”
Stacks, a smoker, noted the difficulty in discarding cigarettes under Ole Miss’ current smoking zone policy – and the corresponding litter under a nearby shade tree.
“This is a beautiful campus. Earlier I was smoking a cigarette, and I was looking for a place to put my cigarette butt and couldn’t,” he said.
“I don’t think (the smoking ban) will be a detrimental policy,” he said. “I just don’t think it’ll be very effective.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com