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WVU bans all smoking on campus

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Smoking will be banned across the West Virginia University campus next year as part of a years-long administrative push to crack down on tobacco use.

The West Virginia Board of Governors approved the all-out smoking and tobacco ban at a meeting in Charleston Thursday. With this total smoking ban, which takes effect July 1, 2013, West Virginia's largest university joins the throng of other higher education institutions around America that have nixed tobacco use.

"This is a big change and it's a big campus," said William Hutchens, general counsel for WVU. "There will always be some people who are reluctant and resent change, but that element is minimal. Most people are on board."

WVU's current policy prohibits smoking inside campus buildings but this proposal would extend that to all outdoor spaces on campus that are owned, operated, leased or occupied by WVU. A major loophole of the policy, however, allows administrators to waive the ban for large events, like football games, that house off-campus visitors.

Zach Redding, the university's Student Government Association president, said the ban might draw fire from some quarters, but overall, students support the policy.

"There are a lot of people who want to be able to smoke who obviously won't be happy about this, but overall, I think students think it's a positive move," he said.

About 15 percent of students at WVU smoke and about 4 percent use other tobacco products, according to a 2012 campus health survey.

Hutchens said it will take time to change an ingrained cultural ethic of tobacco usage, but the university plans to promote tobacco cessation programs and will spend the next year getting community members on board with a "culture of compliance."

Signs will be posted throughout campus warning of the ban, but once it kicks in next year, students who light up on campus will be subject to disciplinary action that could include expulsion, and staff could face termination.

WVU students and staff have already gotten a whiff of how smoke-free environments work.

In June 2010, the WVU Board of Governors approved a complete tobacco ban at the Health Sciences campus, arguing that allowing smoking went against the health-driven mission of Health Sciences.

In January, Monongalia County began enforcing a ban on all indoor smoking in public places. Some residents fumed about the ban, saying it represented a violation of their rights, but for the most part, people are on board with the changes, Redding said.

Across the U.S., there are 711 campuses that are 100 percent smoke free, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation. In the state, the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine and the WVU Health Sciences campuses are the only two campuses that have complete bans on smoking.

However, West Virginia Northern Community College's ban on all tobacco products goes into effect Nov. 15, the date of this year's Great American Smokeout, according to The Associated Press. The ban will apply to three campuses in Wheeling, Weirton and New Martinsville.   

West Virginia had the highest smoking rate in the country in 2010, with an estimated 26.8 percent of adults ages 18 and older smoking. Tobacco use continues to be the leading cause of death and disease in the state, killing about 4,000 people a year, according to the state Division of Tobacco Prevention.

Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.harris@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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