Carol Biliczky

Right now smokers have to step outside of a University of Akron building to light up. Someday they may have to step off campus altogether.

Today the Ohio Board of Regents will consider a policy that would advocate banning tobacco use at all public campuses, including UA.

The resolution would put tax-supported colleges and universities on notice that the state takes a dim view of all tobacco products — from cigarettes to chewing tobacco and snuff — even in wide-open spaces.

“Both the chairman [James?Tuschman] and chancellor [Jim Petro] feel very strongly about this,” Regents’ spokeswoman Kim Norris said.

“They heard very compelling information from many health officials about advocating for students,” as their college years are when they may be most likely to pick up the habit.

That is when Petro first picked up a cigarette, Norris said.

He began smoking while at Denison University, continued for 40 years and eventually was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer. He stopped smoking four years ago and is cancer-free now, Norris said.

Anti-smoking and anti-?tobacco efforts are growing nationwide, said Mari-jean Siehl, head of anti-smoking efforts at the Ohio Department of Health.

The number of campuses with smoking bans has grown from about 60 in 2007 to more than 700 today, according to Americans for Non-Smokers Rights.

In Ohio, state law banned smoking in public buildings in 2007, but colleges and universities have been slower to adopt more aggressive restrictions.

Only five are 100 percent tobacco free — the public Hocking College and the University of Toledo Health Science Campus and three Christian institutions, Malone University, Mount Vernon Nazarene University and Ohio Christian University.

Two others are 100 percent smoke free — the public Miami University and private Notre Dame College.

The Regents’ proposal is “huge” because it takes a stand against smokeless tobacco products that are so popular with young people, Siehl said.

“We’re pushing for 100 percent tobacco free,” she said. “We think this is a very positive thing because the Ohio Board of Regents have the opportunity to change the social norm.”

If the proposal passes, local boards of trustees still would decide their own policy, Norris said. They would not be penalized if they didn’t follow the Regents’ lead.

UA spokeswoman Laura Massie said she did not know what, if anything, university trustees would do if the directive is passed at the state level.

“We’re following this issue and will take into consideration whatever action the Board of Regents takes,” she said.

Carol Biliczky can be reached at cbiliczky@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3729.