University of Akron student Vincent Park puffed on a cigarette in the shade of a parking deck on campus last week.
“With all the stress of classes, smoking helps,” he said. “It’s nice to have some way to relieve the stress.”
As of Saturday, he’ll have to find another way to relax on the 200-acre campus.
The University of Akron, along with Kent State University, joins the growing ranks of smoke- and tobacco-free campuses Saturday.
Vapor-delivering products, as well as chewing and smokeless tobacco, also are out.
Before Saturday, both campuses permitted smoking outdoors — as long as smokers stayed a certain distance from building entrances.
Both schools’ new comprehensive bans apply to everyone — including visitors, vendors and contractors — and smoking is not allowed in personal vehicles on the campuses.
The universities have been talking up the change for months, promoting cessation programs for students and employees as well as launching campaigns to promote the new policies.
“Zip the Habit” declares a slide in a presentation that incoming UA students see at orientation.
“Let’s Clear the Air” is the tagline that appears on KSU notices, including those at campus bus stops and on table tents in eating areas.
“If you’re a smoker, this is a big deal” to now be on a smoke-free campus, said Kent State official Kim Hauge, explaining the rationale for KSU’s ongoing months-long communications effort.
Kent State’s board of trustees OK’d a comprehensive ban for all eight KSU campuses more than a year ago. .
The University of Akron board of trustees approved UA’s smoke-free policy in late December. That was after its University Council, which includes students and faculty and staff members, recommended the campuswide prohibition.
At Kent State, the ban grew out of KSU President Beverly Warren’s ambitious goal to make the school the healthiest in the country.
About 11 percent of Kent State students reported being “regular smokers,” according to a 2015 survey.
“How can you say you want to be the healthiest campus in the nation and yet you have this smoking going on, which we know is one of the leading causes of death,” said Hauge, Kent State’s director of employee wellness and co-chair of the new policy’s implementation committee.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death.
A common question when such bans are implemented is: Why has vaping been nixed, too?
Liquids used in e-cigarettes/vaporizers generally contain nicotine, but do not contain tobacco.
Lisa Craig, UA spokeswoman, said, “With electronic [smoking] devices there are many unknowns... the unknown health effects of long-term use.”
Hauge, at Kent State, concurred: There isn’t enough research about vaping. Is it good, bad, or indifferent?”
The American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation says that as of April 1, there were at least 1,536 tobacco-free U.S. campuses, with 1,400 of these also prohibiting electronic devices.
Health in focus
Malindu Perera, a UA student who is finishing up his engineering degree this summer and describes himself as a casual smoker, said enforcement will be key to the ban’s success.
He said he transferred to UA from the State University of New York at Buffalo, where students smoked on campus despite a ban.
Perera and Park, the other UA student, both said they understand why UA went smoke-free.
“I get it. I see the risks [of smoking],” Park said. “They want to promote a healthy campus overall.”
Both universities anticipate voluntary compliance and they expect compliance to improve over time. Students and employees who repeatedly violate the policy could be disciplined.
Kent State’s Hauge sees social norms serving to enforce the policy: “Not smoking is the norm... People usually want to fit in with the culture they are around.”
Nationally, 13 percent of adults ages 18 to 24 years old were current smokers (those who reported smoking every day or some days and at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime), according to a 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control.
Bans’ wider impact
Smoking bans have served to de-normalize smoking, helping to reduce smoking rates among high-schoolers to historical lows, noted Mike Vuolo, a professor of sociology at Ohio State University.
Vuolo, who has studied the effect of city smoking bans, said his research suggests that the campus smoking bans are more likely to affect casual smokers than heavy smokers.
A 2016 national study of city smoking bans that Vuolo co-authored found that young men who were light smokers were more likely to give up cigarettes after a ban went into effect.
City smoking bans didn’t seem to affect women or serve to reduce or end smoking for those who smoked more than a pack a day. Tobacco use among women already was below that of men, Vuolo said.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or on Facebook at www.facebook.com.