Ky. universities expand smoking, tobacco bans

AP News
Posted: Nov 20, 2009 8:09 AM

Kentucky's flagship public university gave the official heave-ho to tobacco on Thursday, touting the health benefits of a smoke-free policy covering all of its sprawling campus in the heart of burley tobacco country.

The tobacco ban at the University of Kentucky includes outdoor areas and applies to chew, pipes, cigars and snuff as well as cigarettes. Kentucky leads the nation in the production of burley tobacco, and has some of the nation's highest smoking rates.

"Going tobacco-free may not be the easiest thing to do, it may not be the most politically popular thing to do, but in my mind it's the right thing to do for this campus," UK President Lee Todd said in trumpeting the strict anti-tobacco policy.

Not far behind in the tobacco crackdown is the University of Louisville, which started restricting smoking Thursday to limited areas on its Belknap and Shelby campuses.

The goal is to make the university totally smoke-free in a year from now.

Pikeville College also announced Thursday it plans for its campus to be tobacco-free by next fall.

In Lexington, some UK students welcomed the tobacco prohibition.

"It'll be nice walking to class and not having to walk in a cloud of smoke," nonsmoker Kelly Stilz, a senior, said while eating a quick breakfast on campus.

Sophomore Matt Danter, also a nonsmoker, harbored no strong feelings about the policy, but said "it seems a little contradictory" given Kentucky's heritage as a tobacco producer.

Danter said he has friends on campus who smoke and don't like the policy. He said he expects to see plenty of scofflaws on campus.

"If there's a will, there's a way," he said.

The university is stressing treatment, not punishment, for people caught using tobacco on campus. Citations will not be given to violators, and the school will steer them toward treatment. However, UK employees who are flagrant violators could ultimately be fired, and flagrant student violators could face dismissal from school, said Ellen Hahn, a UK nursing professor who played a leading role in implementing the policy.

"We would not expect that," she said, predicting that people will comply.

But the goal is to help them kick their tobacco habits. To help accomplish that, the university will make nicotine replacement products available at no cost for up to 12 weeks for students, faculty and staff enrolled in UK-sponsored tobacco treatment programs, she said.

Those not ready to give up tobacco but wanting to get through the day without a cigarette or a pinch of snuff can get the replacement products at deep discounts on campus, she said.

"We know it's going to take time," said Anthany Beatty, UK's assistant vice president for campus services. "Nicotine is a powerfully addictive substance, and folks just can't drop the habit."

Kent Ratajeski, a lecturer in UK's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said the tobacco-free policy went too far, encroaching on the freedom of students.

"I think the university is telling them how to live their lives," he said.

UK has prohibited smoking inside and within 20 feet of buildings since 2006.

Tim Bricker, chairman of pediatrics for the Kentucky Children's Hospital, said he understood the tobacco-free policy will be inconvenient for some on campus. But if the ban improves overall health and entices some people to stop smoking, then it's "really worth it," he said.

Kentucky has the nation's highest rate of lung cancer and is third in adult smoking rates, according to the state Department for Public Health.

"Our young people are being targeted by the tobacco companies, and have been for years," said Hahn, who played a key role in implementing the policy. "This policy really is an investment in our young people and in our state."

Even with the ban, UK still has strong ties to tobacco.

Specialists in its College of Agriculture offer production advice to tobacco growers, and UK is home to a research center seeking new commercial uses for tobacco, including pharmaceuticals.

Scott Smith, dean of UK's College of Agriculture, said the university still grows tobacco on its farms as part of research to assist growers and the tobacco industry.

"Tobacco remains an important crop to many Kentucky farms," he said.

Elsewhere, the University of Louisville kicked off its policy Thursday to ban smoking almost everywhere on its campuses. Rather than asking employees and students to quit cold turkey, however, U of L began a phaseout of smoking, with designated smoking areas set up on its Belknap and Shelby campuses. The school will gradually phase out those smoking areas, with the goal of making its campuses totally smoke-free by November 2010.

U of L's Health Sciences campus has been smoke-free since 2004.

"As a university committed to our students, faculty and staff, we are emphasizing the health benefits of not smoking," said U of L Provost Shirley Willihnganz.