ORONO, Maine — A ban on the use of cigarettes and other tobacco products on the University of Maine campus met with mixed responses Monday as students returned for the beginning of the spring semester.
The initiative, school officials say, is aimed at improving the overall health and wellness of the UMaine community.
For now, the ban requires only voluntary compliance. Starting Jan. 1, 2012, however, the university will enforce the policy, though just how it will deal with transgressors is uncertain.
“The main thing people need to understand about this ban is we’re not going to be pushing stiff consequences if you’re caught smoking,” said Lauri Sidelko, co-chairwoman of the Tobacco-Free Campus Committee and director of the Alcohol and Drug Education Program at UMaine.
Monday was the first time students were on campus since the ban went into effect New Year’s Day, and many could be seen smoking freely.
“It kinda takes away our freedom of personal choice,” Casey Sturrup, 21, a mechanical engineering student, said of the policy as he stood with a friend sharing a cigarette in front of the student union. “I mean, what are they going to do next, take away soda?”
Both said they have no intention of kicking the habit or even leaving campus to comply with the policy.
“It’s going to take time for people to get used to this,” said Sidelko. “Considering the policy just went into effect, there’s really no way to gauge how it’s being received right now.”
She added that enforcement could include a number of options, ranging from a referral to judicial affairs, a student office that deals with conduct and disciplinary actions, to providing more information to violators through the office of Alcohol and Drug Education Program.
Some students and faculty members interviewed Monday were impressed by the ban and looked forward to breathing smoke-free air.
“It might be unfair to smokers, but I’m glad. I get an instant headache every time I catch a whiff of smoke,” said Serena Bragdon, 20, a student in elementary education.
The university finally is implementing the policy after it announced in 2007 that it would join the more than 365 colleges and universities nationwide already enforcing similar rules. Later, a committee was formed and public forums were held to determine the effects of the change.
Sidelko acknowledged that such a policy can be difficult for some, and the university is fully aware that it means a lifestyle change for many. She also explained that UMaine would revisit the progress of the ban throughout the year to determine the proper course of action in dealing with violators.
The decision to ban tobacco completely, said Sidelko, was an obvious one. The university has long prohibited smoking in buildings and required smokers to stand within 20 feet of a building, measures she said were burdensome to enforce, as many smokers seek shelter under cover of adjacent structures in inclement weather and often find it difficult to measure out 20 feet from buildings.
She also said smoking shelters and designated areas were explored during the planning process, but the committee found those options to be too costly because of maintenance and materials.
Other concerns expressed by students, faculty and staff Monday involved personal rights.
“I think for a lot of people, this is really a part of a larger picture,” said David Cox, a lab technician who works in the biomedical sciences department. “It’s all about personal rights, I mean, this is something that is going to affect responsible adults.”
Despite the mixed reactions since the ban went into effect Jan. 1, Sidelko said the measure has been well-received and she expects a smooth transition.