ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine will become the second institution of higher learning in the state to go tobacco-free, beginning on a voluntary basis in 2011 and becoming mandatory in 2012, school officials said Thursday.
The announcement comes after three years of extensive discussion and research into adopting a policy change, which will be rolled out in a phased approach, UMaine Director of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services Lauri Sidelko said.
For the remaining 10 months of 2010, the university will embark on an aggressive informational campaign and will direct more resources to students and employees who wish to quit smoking. During 2011, students and staff will be asked to voluntarily comply with the new policy. Beginning on Jan. 1, 2012, the change will be mandatory, although the university is still in the process of developing its enforcement plan.
“We’re not looking to create a police state,” Sidelko said. “We don’t want to marginalize smokers. This is more about increasing health benefits and decreasing risks. For those who might want to quit, this phased plan gives them ample opportunity. A number of smokers are thrilled that they have time.”
University of Maine President Robert Kennedy created a committee in July 2007 to explore adoption of a tobacco-free policy, which includes cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco.
For years, smoking has been prohibited in all UMaine buildings, but the new policy would extend that ban to the campus grounds and university property. The committee met with more than 500 individuals to discuss tobacco policies and potential changes during the planning and assessment period.
“We have had a student member and graduate student member on the committee,” Sidelko said. “We have visited with student government [officials] many times. We’ve met with athletic teams and Greek organizations. Students had a voice in these discussions.”
Steve Emmons, 24, a senior from Gray who smokes, said he’s not sure students offered much input.
“The people I know didn’t know about these meetings until after they happened,” he said. “It seems like this infringes on people’s right to choose. People are just going to go underground. They’re going to smoke in their dorm rooms.”
Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Philip Morris USA, said his company doesn’t have a strong stance on banning smoking on campuses.
“We agree that people should be able to avoid being around second-hand smoke,” he said by telephone.
According to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, there are smoke-free colleges and universities in nearly every state, and two states — Arkansas and Iowa — have instituted statewide bans at all public colleges and universities.
In Maine, however, the only tobacco-free campus is Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield, although other schools, such as the University of Maine at Farmington, University of Southern Maine and University of New England have explored policy changes.
“We feel that it’s important to show leadership in this area and to promote a healthy environment that will foster teaching, learning, research and the other elements of the university’s mission,” Kennedy said in a statement. “A tobacco-free environment is a healthier environment. This move will have a positive impact in many ways, including enhanced community life, improved productivity through better health and potential decreases in health care costs.”
According to Sidelko, a 2007 survey indicated that about 6 percent of UMaine students were everyday smokers, and another revealed that 83 percent of the student body had never used tobacco. Enrollment in 2009 was just under 12,000. The smoking rate for faculty and staff was slightly higher, at 9 percent, she said.
Vice President for Student Affairs Robert Dana also said data strongly suggest that the vast majority of smokers want to quit. As such, the university’s policy change also emphasizes a series of programs to assist those who wish to break tobacco addiction between now and the implementation date.
But Dana acknowledged that some feel that the tobacco ban could be seen as puritanical.
“I think this is confused by our nation’s social policy in the sense that [tobacco] is a legal product,” Dana said. “And smokers are treated with prejudice, but what we’re saying is ‘we will support you.’ We’re not saying there is a right and wrong.”
As for compliance with the new policies, Dana said the UMaine community would work with repeat violators to achieve behavior modification.
“Those who find compliance to be difficult should ask for help,” he said. “Our goal is not to create an adversarial situation for anyone, but rather to provide the resources necessary to help bring everybody in our community to the point where this is no longer an issue.”
More information, including background on issues related to tobacco use, links to useful resources and a Frequently Asked Questions section are all available on the Web at http://www.umaine.edu/tobaccofree.