A new tobacco ban covering the University of South Carolina’s entire Columbia campus complex is not about punishing smokers, it’s about changing behaviors, according to USC President Harris Pastides. Smokers might not like the prodding, but tobacco bans appear to be a growing national trend.
Pastides announced last week that the ban on all tobacco products, including chewing tobacco, would begin Jan. 1. The school will hold a tobacco-free summit in October and install signs and remove ashtrays in December.
Since 2006, USC has banned tobacco use within 25 feet of buildings and outdoor seating areas, including patios. But a campus-wide ban will mean that even fans tailgating at the former State Farmers Market site or in school-owned parking lots, around basketball’s Colonial Life Arena and baseball’s Carolina Stadium, won’t be permitted to light up cigarettes or chew tobacco.
Fourteen other schools in the state already ban smoking or all tobacco products on campus. York Technical College and Clinton College in Rock Hill are among the 14, the largest of which currently is the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
But USC will be, by far, the largest university in the state to bar use of tobacco. Its ban will cover more than 40,000 students, faculty and staff, not to mention non-student fans at sports events.
Winthrop University also is considering a campus-wide ban. So are Clemson University, Furman University, Benedict College and the College of Charleston.
Nearly 1,200 campuses nationwide either ban smoking or ban all tobacco products. That number grew from only 530 campuses two years ago.
Clearly, the trend is to make colleges and universities tobacco-free zones.
Some smokers no doubt would argue that, as long as they pursue their habit outside in a designated smoking area, they aren’t harming anyone but themselves. But, as Pastides implies, it appears that colleges have come to regard discouraging the use of tobacco as part of their educational mission.
Pastides stresses that USC’s ban will be “enforced in a gentle way.” Violators will be offered the chance to attend stop-smoking programs as an alternative to paying fines or other forms of discipline.
Surveys indicate that 87 percent of students at USC and 94 percent of faculty and staff already don’t smoke. That’s considerably fewer smokers than the state’s average, which is about 24 percent.
Campus smoking bans are likely to prove to be an effective way to help students kick the habit before they have done irreversible damage to their bodies. In many cases, students will not have begun smoking until their teen years, which means quitting early could give them decades of smoke-free years ahead.
We think that support from colleges and universities and smoking cessation programs should be an integral part of any campus-wide ban. Even if students have just picked up smoking, tobacco is addictive and often hard to quit, and students might need help kicking the habit.
Young people have a tendency to assume that they can enjoy smoking or chewing tobacco now and worry about quitting when they’re older. But many older tobacco users will testify that the decision to quit often is delayed – sometimes until it’s too late.
But attending college on a tobacco-free campus is an ideal environment for quitting. No one else on campus is creating a temptation by smoking, and going off campus to smoke or chew is a real inconvenience.
If the trend of banning tobacco on campus continues as seems likely, we are likely to look back in years to come and wonder why smoking and chewing were ever permitted on campus in the first place. How could colleges have allowed students to use a highly addictive substance at all?
That’s a good question and, we think, schools that ban tobacco use are ahead of the curve.