By Errol Castens/Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OXFORD – Smokers on the University of Mississippi campus have received their last warning.
After several years of trying to limit smoking to designated outdoor areas, Ole Miss officials last August banned all smoking on university property. The smoke-free policy was introduced during the fall semester with warning-only citations, but fine-based enforcement has begun.
“As of Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, the University of Mississippi will strictly enforce our smoke free campus policy,” states campus newsletter “UM Today.” “Warnings will not be issued to those found smoking on campus; all violators, including faculty, staff, students, visitors, and contractors, are instead subject to a $25 per violation fine.”
Donna Gurley, assistant university attorney, said the soft enforcement may have been a bad idea after fine-based enforcement that had accompanied the smoking-zone policy.
“We had a period of time when there were no fines, and I think some of our smokers took that as a vacation,” she said. “There really wasn’t a penalty, but in retrospect that may have been counterproductive.”
Smokers on campus haven’t given up hope of having the policy overturned.
Kathleen Henry, an accounting assistant in the Office of the Bursar, said that Staff Council’s support of the ban does not reflect the wishes of most staff members and that she and other ban opponents haven’t been allowed to speak at council meetings.
“We were very disappointed with Staff Council – furious, really – because they kept putting us off month to month, and finally it was December, and now the ban is in effect,” she said.
Henry said opponents of the ban have not conceded the issue.
“Staff Council voted down a campuswide poll, but our group may poll anyway,” she said.
Gurley said objectors are a distinct minority.
“We understand there are some people who are unhappy, but the vast majority of feedback we’ve gotten is very, very positive,” she said.
Since the policy was announced in August, Ole Miss has stepped up its help for faculty, staff and students who want to quit smoking. The first intervention is a few minutes’ worth of take-home strategies, said Student Pharmacy Director Sandra Bentley. A second program offers several cessation sessions and free nicotine patches, nicotine gum or other smoking-cessation drugs.
“It’s important to have programs like this, because quitting is very difficult,” Bentley said. “Research has shown that it’s very rare that someone can quit on their own without any support or any help.”