Nicotine is out at Georgia’s public universities this fall.
In a far-reaching ban, the University System of Georgia is barring the use of all forms of tobacco -- from cigarettes to smokeless, hookahs to e-cigarettes -- starting Oct. 1.
The Board of Regents voted to ban all tobacco products on the property of the state’s 31 colleges and universities in March. In the midstate, the ban affects campuses including Middle Georgia State College, Fort Valley State University and Georgia College.
Fort Valley State already implemented the ban to coordinate with the academic year, said Lynn Hobbs, vice president for business and finance.
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“For us, it’s a public health issue,” Hobbs said. “We’re trying to educate our students academically, be we’re also trying to improve their health and the health of society going forward.”
Georgia College and Middle Georgia are implementing their bans Oct. 1. They have been getting the word out on campus through various means, including signage around campus. Both schools have websites to explain the bans and connect people with programs to help them kick the habit.
For now, schools plan to rely on peer-to-peer policing to help students, faculty and other employees wean their on-campus tobacco habits, as well as gentle reminders from officials. Those who are caught using tobacco on campus will be informed about the policy and asked to put out their smokes or leave campus.
“We want to give the opportunity to people to respectfully comply,” said Jennifer Brannon, vice president of student affairs.
So far, no Middle Georgia schools plan to issue citations, send students to student judicial committees or report staffers to human resources, but all of them are waiting to see if they have any repeat violators. Each is contemplating further sanctions if there are willful repeat violators.
The goal of the ban, according to the regents, was to encourage better health on campuses for both students and staff. Officials from the midstate universities echoed that and said as part of the bans they are offering smoking cessation plans, classes and resources to those who wish to quit.
Georgia College is even holding a health fair on its front campus Oct. 1, the day the ban takes effect, said Brittiny Barber, manager of media relations for the college.
The ban had some tobacco users on Middle Georgia State’s campus upset, and others wondered how such a ban could possibly be enforced on such a large campus.
Several students said the current designated smoking areas make sense and keep nonsmokers away from their secondhand smoke.
Xavier Hutchison, a freshman, was sitting behind the student center with several of his friends this week. He said the ban would not be enforceable. Smoking is not illegal, he reasoned, so it doesn’t make sense to ban it on campus.
“I didn’t come to college to not smoke,” he said. “How are they going to stop it?”
Hutchison and his friends thought the current system of designated smoking areas should continue.
“Smoking isn’t healthy, but if you’re an adult, the law says you are allowed to do it,” said Trevor Turner, who was smoking a Black and Mild cigar. “If you’re in a designated smoking area, you aren’t bothering other people.”
Turner and another member of the group, Rodriquez Huff, said they were recently issued a warning by a campus police officer and said they were upset about the warning and the ban itself.
“I don’t understand enforcing a rule in one place that isn’t enforced everywhere,” Huff said. “I don’t want to have to feel like I’m doing something illegal that is legal.”
Middle Georgia senior Brittany Jones, who was smoking while studying behind the education building, said she the upcoming ban has upset her, too. However, it might be the final impetus in her quest to kick the habit.
“I’m trying to quit, so maybe it’s a sign I need to quit.”
To contact writer Mark Vanderhoek, call 744-4331.