GORHAM — Students are protesting this week against a tobacco ban that will take effect next month at the University of Southern Maine’s three campuses.
But the demonstrations won’t shake USM President Theodora Kalikow’s support of the new policy.
“They won’t change my mind,” she said Monday afternoon, when a small group of students set up posters and chain-smoked by the president’s house on the Gorham campus. A protest is planned Wednesday on the Portland campus.
The new policy, which takes effect Jan. 1, prohibits the use of lighted tobacco products, such as cigarettes and cigars; smokeless tobacco products, such as chew or snuff; and smoking cessation products, such electronic cigarettes, that haven’t been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
It replaces a decade-old policy that allowed smoking in designated areas of the Portland, Gorham and Lewiston campuses but had not been effective, students and university officials said Monday.
USM joins more than 800 U.S. colleges – almost twice as many as two years ago – that prohibit smoking on campus, according to national lobbying group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.
Other colleges in Maine that have banned on-campus smoking are the University of Maine at Orono, the University of Maine at Farmington and Kennebec Valley Community College.
Colby College is phasing in a tobacco ban at its Waterville campus. Smoking is confined to three designated areas this year and will be prohibited next fall.
Like USM, the University of Maine at Augusta is adopting a tobacco ban in January, but allowing a grace period until next September, when enforcement will begin, said USM spokeswoman Judie O’Malley.
Kalikow said she’s not too concerned about how to punish people who violate the policy. She thinks it will be a cultural change in the same way that people today would be horrified if someone started smoking during class, even though that wasn’t unusual when she was in college.
“Nobody’s running around being members of the smoking police,” she said. “The campus customs change. If smoking’s not allowed, people don’t smoke.”
The new tobacco policy was adopted last spring by then-president Selma Botman, who was reassigned within the University of Maine System following a no-confidence vote by faculty.
Kalikow, who was president of the University of Maine at Farmington when that school banned tobacco a couple of years ago, is simply enacting a change that was already in the works.
“I discovered that people had been working on this for years and years and years, and I said, ‘OK, it’s time. Let’s do it,'” Kalikow said.
Jordana Avital, a freshman from New Jersey who organized the protests this week, said she might have gone to a different college if she had known about the ban before deciding to attend.
At first, Avital said, she was upset about not being able to smoke on the Gorham campus, where she lives. Now, she feels her rights as an 18-year-old who can legally smoke are being taken away.
Avital would like the university to compromise with smokers by keeping the current policy and putting up more signs indicating where people can smoke. She said people violate the policy because they’re not aware it exists.
“You can’t expect people to respect rules they don’t know,” she said.
Molly Shaheen, a sophomore walking by the protest Monday, said she doesn’t think the university should put up more signs for designated smoking areas and “spend more money to indulge addiction.”
She supports the ban.
“I quit smoking two months ago. I think it’s completely doable,” Shaheen said.
After adopting the new policy, USM received a $2,500 grant from Healthy Maine Partnerships to put up signs and fliers around the campus alerting people about the ban, O’Malley said.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at: