Local college campuses to be mostly smoke-free by this week

Starting this week, nearly all college and university campuses in New Orleans will be tobacco-free or moving in that direction.

The policies, which ban cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and, in some cases, electronic cigarettes, are aimed at creating a healthier environment, cutting down on exposure to secondhand smoke and, in the case of public colleges, abiding by a state law passed last year.

“We want to make sure the campus is a healthy and comfortable place to be,” said Adam Norris, director of public relations for the University of New Orleans. “We’re hopeful this will sort of persuade (students and others) to make some more healthy choices.”

The bans have been spurred by a variety of factors.

Public colleges and universities in the state are required to go smoke-free Aug. 1 under a law passed by the Legislature last year.

That law allows the schools themselves to decide whether to ban just cigarettes or all types of tobacco. Many public schools across the state, including LSU and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, have opted for the more restrictive option.

Delgado Community College also will prohibit all types of tobacco and e-cigarettes starting Aug. 1.

Smoking and oral tobacco will be banned at UNO. E-cigarettes will be allowed on that campus, though people using them to get their nicotine fix will need to be outside and at least 25 feet away from a university building.

At first, UNO will rely on students, faculty and staff to comply with the policy voluntarily, Norris said. The administration is making an effort to ensure people know about the new rules and has placed signs with information about the policy across the campus.

While there will be a period for people to get used to the ban, which also covers the school’s dorms and some buildings in its technology park, there eventually will be consequences for those found repeatedly using tobacco on school property.

“We hope to appeal to them to comply with the policy,” Norris said. “If it does come to it, people could eventually be fined.”

While not legally required to adopt smoke-free policies, private colleges and universities in New Orleans are also in the process of banning cigarettes and tobacco.

Tulane University’s tobacco-free policy goes into effect Aug. 1 as well and covers all types of tobacco and e-cigarettes.

Scott Tims, the university’s director of student health, said the ban is a logical extension of policies restricting tobacco use on campus that date back to the 1980s, when the school first banned the sale of tobacco products on campus. The most recent restrictions, which went into effect in 2008, allowed smoking only at designated smoking areas.

But those 2008 restrictions were never really enforced, and it was hard to determine whether people were even abiding by them, given the relatively vague boundaries of the smoking areas, Tims said.

“It never really worked. We had people walking all over campus smoking,” he said.

Tulane officials will spend six months educating students, faculty and staff about the new policy and hoping to get voluntary compliance. Should that fail, the school will begin issuing fines, Tims said.

He said the goal of the ban is to limit the exposure of those who could be negatively impacted by cigarette smoke, such as people with asthma or allergies.

“It’s not about infringing on someone’s right to use but limiting exposure for those who are negatively affected,” Tims said. “People are getting excited about the idea of being able to walk through campus and not having to walk through those clouds of smoke.”

Loyola University won’t be going smoke-free this summer, but the administration plans to adopt policies to make the campus tobacco-free by fall 2015, university spokeswoman Mikel Pak said. A task force is developing recommendations to move toward that goal, she said.

“We’re looking at this issue very seriously,” she said.

Xavier University and Dillard University have banned all tobacco products and e-cigarettes since January.

Predictably, the new policies are not going over well with some smokers at the schools.

Mabon and Wes Williford, brothers who are both working on degrees in business management at UNO, stood outside the University Center a few days ago smoking.

The brothers noted that they were more than 25 feet from the center’s doors — far enough to keep smoke from bothering those coming and going from the building, they said.

The ban will mean people will have to hike off the relatively large campus for a smoke, which could be difficult for those with little time between classes. It will be a major imposition on smokers, many of whom may not have been causing anyone any problems, they said.

“It’s a question of when someone’s rights start infringing on other people’s rights,” Wes Williford said.

The Willifords said they don’t expect the policy will succeed in actually eliminating all smoking on campus, though they said it will likely break up the groups of smokers that congregate in some areas.

“They’ll try to enforce it, and it’ll probably end up cutting down on it,” Wes Williford said.

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.