AUGUSTA — The University of Maine at Augusta will ban tobacco use on campus starting in January, joining a growing number of colleges and universities.

The policy will “promote a campus culture of wellness and environmental responsibility,” President Allyson Handley wrote this week in an email to the university’s faculty, staff and students.

UMA officials started talking about going tobacco-free more than a month ago. The University of Maine, the University of Maine at Farmington and Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield enacted similar policies in the past two years.

“I think it was just a matter of time that we decided that it was time for us, too,” said Leslie Ellis, a human resources employee and chairwoman of the university’s wellness committee.

Smoking now is prohibited within 50 feet of building entrances at UMA. Officials plan more outreach before the campus-wide ban starts Jan. 1. Penalties will not take effect until July 1.

The University of Southern Maine also will be tobacco-free as of Jan. 1.

The American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation counts at least 774 smoke-free campuses in the U.S., of which 562 are tobacco-free. Arkansas, Oklahoma and Iowa require public college campuses to be smoke-free.

UMA’s new policy will prohibit anyone on the university’s campuses in Augusta and Bangor, or at the nine University College centers, from using any tobacco products or non-FDA-approved nicotine products such as electronic cigarettes.

People will be allowed to smoke in their vehicles with the windows rolled up, as long as they dispose of butts inside the vehicles.

John Tiner, a University College employee who was on the mostly empty Augusta campus Wednesday, welcomed the news about the tobacco-free policy. Many smokers don’t follow the policy of staying 50 feet from building entrances, he said.

“Everyone’s right here,” Tiner said, gesturing to the door of the Katz Library. “You come through this door, and you’re going through the cloud all the time.”

Rich Frino, another University College employee, said he usually ends up smoking next to the trash receptacle behind the library. Starting in January, he’ll have to go to his car; he said that smells like cigarettes already.

“I think it’s a smart change for the campus,” Frino said. “Their arguments are right about secondhand smoke and general cleanliness.”

Employees who use tobacco on campus will be subject to the same progressive discipline that applies for violations of other policies.

Students will receive two warnings, and a third violation will trigger a formal student conduct procedure. Penalties start at a $25 fine or two hours of community service and escalate to possible suspension.

The university will promote tobacco cessation resources and train employees to refer tobacco users who want to quit, college officials said.

University spokesman Bob Stein said that in meetings on both campuses last spring, most people supported the tobacco ban, but some opposed it, including tobacco users and some instructors who were concerned about their students.

“I think there was some concern that people who couldn’t go three hours without smoking would have a tough time with this policy,” Stein said.

Some classes run almost three hours, with a break in the middle. That’s part of the rationale for allowing smoking in personal vehicles, Stein said.

UMA’s Student Government Association did an informal survey on the issue in the spring. With about 400 students responding, 59 percent said they favored a tobacco-free campus, 26 percent opposed it and 15 percent had no strong opinion.

The University of Maine became the first school in the state to ban the use of tobacco on campus, starting Jan. 1, 2011. Penalties took effect at the start of this year.

Student Wellness Resource Center Director Lauri Sidelko said fewer than 10 students have been reported to the student conduct process for violations.

 

Kennebec Journal Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at:

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