COLUMBUS — It can’t force their hands, but a state panel today voted unanimously to urge all public universities and colleges to ban smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco on their entire campuses.
“What we do today is to try to set the stage for each of our campuses, each of our governing boards, to take up this important initiative, to debate it, to discuss it, and to ultimately pass it so that this state will have its public campuses of higher education tobacco free,” said James Tuschman, a Toledo lawyer who chairs the Ohio Board of Regents.
Mr. Tuschman said he’s been surprised at how little negative reaction he’s received since he first proposed the idea after a meeting with the Cleveland Clinic, which not only bans smoking in its facilities but has fired employees who flagrantly violate the ban and refuses to hire smokers.
The ban adopted today leaves it to each school board of trustees to decide whether to follow the regents’ recommendations, how far they want to go with it if they do move in that direction, and what punishment might befall a college employee or student who violates it.
Mr. Tuschman conceded that this could lead to a patchwork of different policies at public institutions across the state.
A law adopted by voters in 2006 already makes it illegal to light up in offices, government buildings, restaurants, bars, or any other indoor location that has employees and invites the public inside. That includes classroom and administration buildings on campus. But it does not include dormitories, which are largely viewed by the law as students’ homes and open outdoor space on campuses, both of which would be placed off-limits to cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and other tobacco products if the schools fully implement the regents’ proposal.
The resolution does not touch on the idea of the schools’ refusing to hire smoking employees or to enroll smoking students nor does it propose penalties for violators.
Nationally, 711 public and private colleges and universities have 100 percent smoke-free policies, including allowing no dormitory smoking rooms or campus smoking huts.
In Ohio, that list includes just Miami University, Mr. Tuschman’s public alma mater, and the private Notre Dame College of Ohio.
Six more — the public University of Toledo Health Science Campus and private Hocking College, Malone College, Mount Vernon Nazarene University, Dwight Scar College of Nursing, and Ohio Christian University — have policies that apply to all tobacco products.
The resolution had the full support of Jim Petro, Ohio’s governor-appointed chancellor of higher education who had his own battle with smoking-related cancer of the larynx.
“I regret the fact that when I went off to college, I started smoking, which obviously took its toll on me,” he said in what is now a raspy voice that struggles to get above a forceful whisper.
“I call upon our boards of trustees of each of our 14 universities and 23 community colleges to look seriously at this proposal,” Mr. Petro said. “This is not something that breaks with any tradition. It doesn’t necessarily try to redefine what might have been deemed to be student and employee rights of the past. It simply recognizes that overall the elimination of smoke in public places is proving to be, time and again, to a very great degree a great health move for all of our citizens.”
In addition to its outright ban at its medical campus, the main University of Toledo campus restricts smoking to seven bus-stop-style smoking areas. Bowling Green State University banned smoking in all of its buildings before the voter-approved state ban went into effect in 2007.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Mr. Tuschman, whose tenure as a regent will end this fall. “I think we should seriously debate it.
Will it be a walk in the park? It won’t. There’s going to be some serious groups that will probably debate this. But I think in the long run most of our institutions will accept this policy.”