Smoking at UMaine

Posted March 07, 2010, at 5:22 p.m.

The University of Maine’s decision to go tobacco-free protects a vast majority — nonsmokers who want to avoid secondhand smoke and smokers who really want to quit and need help.

The university is joining the many states and cities that have taken the bold step of prohibiting smoking in public spaces. After three years of discussion and research, it will begin a phased program: an aggressive 2010 information campaign with help to quit smoking for students and employees who ask for it; a request through 2011 for voluntary compliance with a no-smoking policy; and, starting Jan. 1, 2012, a mandatory ban throughout campus.

Efforts to curb smoking have shown a slow, steady progression. For many, smoking used to be a cool and companionable habit, helped along by movies. Most of the stars smoked in what was probably an early instance of product placement. Individuals found that lighting up was an easy start in socializing. A habit quickly became an addiction.

Tobacco hazards have long been known but for too long ignored. King James, in 1604, called smoking “a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs.” But people puffed away on what they laughingly called “coffin nails.”

Lurking in the background was the fact that the tobacco companies were making big profits from an item that cost pennies to make, and it was addictive. It was so addictive that a great St. Louis surgeon, Dr. Evarts A. Graham, who demonstrated on laboratory white mice that cigarette tar caused cancer and performed the first total pneumonectomy, continued to smoke and eventually died of lung cancer.

Mark Twain said, “It’s easy to quit smoking. I’ve done it hundreds of times.” But it’s no joke. Quitting can be terribly hard. Look at President Barack Obama. Efforts to cut down on smoking often end in failure. So do plans to smoke only when offered a cigarette, since the subject can get to practically begging for one.

UMaine is wise to rule out designated smoking centers, contending that they would actually promote more tobacco use on campus, plus the expense and spread of secondhand smoke.

It will be a long campaign, with ups and downs. But it is well worth the trouble, since it will promote health, save and extend lives. Other colleges will do well to do the same.

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