GORHAM – A proposed tobacco ban is a hot topic in Gorham at the University of Southern Maine campus.

Proponents of a ban want to halt a health hazard and have cleaner campuses by changing a policy that now allows smoking in designated areas outside campus buildings. But, the proposal has drawn some fire.

“I think banning it all over campus might be infringing on other people’s rights,” non-smoker Adam Pyenburg, a sophomore living on the Gorham campus, said Tuesday.

The university’s Tobacco Policy Committee, which promotes a healthy environment at campuses in Gorham, Portland and Lewiston-Auburn, is proposing a tobacco-free policy. The three campuses have 10,000 students. The committee reported that a 2009 survey indicates 12 percent of the university’s enrollment use tobacco, representing about 1,200 students.

A ban would impact students, faculty, staff and visitors, and would prohibit both smoking and chewing tobacco. Smokers now are supposed to light up at designated areas throughout the campus.

“They’re advocating a complete ban of tobacco products on campus,” Judie O’Malley, a university spokeswoman, said this week.

Suzanne Roy, university health promotion manager and chairwoman of the Tobacco Policy Committee, said Tuesday that the University of Maine in Orono instituted a tobacco-free policy on Jan. 1, and she said 370 colleges and universities nationwide are now tobacco-free.

The tobacco-free policy proposal has divided the University of Southern Maine. O’Malley said the faculty senate Friday tabled the matter until May 6 while the student senate voted Friday against the ban. Earlier in the academic year, senates for both the professional staff and hourly employees favored the ban.

O’Malley said Selma Botman, university president, is awaiting all results from the university senates. The committee hopes Botman would endorse the tobacco-free policy it is proposing.

“The University of Southern Maine Tobacco Policy Committee seeks to adopt a tobacco-free policy that promotes a safer and healthier environment where people can learn, work and live without exposure to the serious health hazards of tobacco products and secondhand smoke,” its report issued in October said.

Roy said designated smoking areas are being disregarded. She said the secondhand smoke is “a menace.”

“The current USM Tobacco Policy that allows smoking only in designated areas is not effective in reducing the health hazards associated with exposure to secondhand smoke and tobacco waste,” the policy committee report states.

The proposed ban drew a mixed reaction among students interviewed this week. Santina King, a junior who lives on the Gorham campus, said she doesn’t condone smoking. But, she said, “If someone wants to smoke, it’s their choice.”

“It’s a hot issue, you don’t want to butt into someone’s life,” King said. “I’m on the fence about it.”

A freshman on the Gorham campus, Adam Balbo said some smokers are abusing the privilege and he favored the tobacco ban in a campus survey.

“I voted to get rid of smoking on campus,” Balbo said.

Chelsea Fortin, a senior on the Gorham campus, said that some are not adhering to the designated smoking areas. Fortin said when the weather is cold or inclement, smokers congregate close to buildings.

“You walk right through it,” Fortin said about smoke. “I’m for the ban.”

A fraternity member who lives off campus said he opposes the ban.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Eric Curtis said.

Curtis said more receptacles are needed to dispose of cigarette butts and advocated enforcement to keep smokers at least 50 feet away from doorways.

Relaxing Tuesday evening with student friends on a campus bench in Gorham, Emily Creamer doubted a tobacco ban on campus would prevent smoking.

“I don’t think it will stop anybody,” she said.

No punitive action is taken against smoking violators at the University of Southern Maine.

“You’re not going to get arrested,” O’Malley said.

And at Orono, in its fourth month of a tobacco-free campus, punishing violators is not the goal. “We don’t have people on patrol,” Kenda Scheele, associate dean of students, said Tuesday.

Scheele said continued flagrant violations by students would be handled through the conduct code.

“We’re not looking to punish people. Our goals are a cultural change,” Scheele said, but added any cultural change takes a while.

The university’s Tobacco Policy Committee report says, “The American College Health Association issued a September 2009 ‘no tobacco policy’ position statement encouraging colleges and universities nationwide ‘to be diligent in their efforts to achieve a 100 percent indoor and outdoor campus-wide tobacco-free environment.’

The Tobacco Policy Committee also said cigarette butts are a litter problem and can be an ecological hazard to animals and marine life.

If the University of Southern Maine approves the tobacco ban, it would unlikely be in place when school commences in the fall. Roy said good signage on campuses would encourage students and staff to follow the tobacco-free policy. Implementation of the policy could take up to a year.

Roy said the university’s smoking policy was last revised in 2002.

“We thought it’s time to look at the policy,” she said.

Taking a break Tuesday evening after classes at the University of Southern Maine campus in Gorham are, from left, Katelyn Vieth, Emily Creamer, Canda Santiago and Hillary Warring. “I don’t think it will stop anybody,” Creamer said about a proposed tobacco ban on the campus. (Staff photo by Robert Lowell)

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