NKU to adopt tobacco-free campus policy

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, KY (FOX19) - The Northern Kentucky University Board of Regents voted unanimously Wednesday to direct the adoption of a tobacco-free campus policy.

The board's action authorizes NKU President Geoffrey Mearns to develop the details of the policy and to appoint a Tobacco-Free Campus Task Force to develop recommendations for the transition and the policy's implementation. The transition process will include students, faculty, staff and visitors, and could take up to 18 months.

Mearns said this action reflects the university's ongoing commitment to supporting an environment that is clean, healthy and safe for all.

"NKU has been consistently recognized for its commitment to health and wellness," Mearns said. "Today we begin the next step toward improving our campus atmosphere. Our goal is to provide a healthy environment for our students and, in turn, a healthy workforce for local employers."

NKU joins the movement already implemented by the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville and Miami University.

NKU already has a tobacco policy in place with no smoking inside any campus building and designated areas available for smokers. The sale or free distribution of tobacco products is also prohibited.

Supporters of the movement say by going tobacco free, NKU becomes a smoke-free workplace. As a result, non-smokers would no longer encounter unwanted second-hand smoke. However, those who oppose the campus' smoking ban argue smokers would be forced to leave campus or make a drastic lifestyle change.

"I'd rather not leave campus to go smoke a cigarette, but you know, who knows," said Joshua Ross, smoker and senior at Northern Kentucky University.

"I mean, I don't like being around it, and if it's banned, I'm not around it," added Jimmy Hillman, sophomore, non-smoker at NKU.

Across the country, the ability to smoke in a public place is disappearing. College campuses are among the most recent establishments to join the effort to become smoke -free.

According to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, more than 1,000 campuses across the country are 100 percent smoke free with no exemptions, with 766 on a 100 percent tobacco-free policy.

"If it happens, it's going to be a move in the right direction to help create a healthier and happier future for all the students here," said Erik Pederson, student body president at NKU. "A lot of the students have tried to quit smoking. They've just unsuccessfully done so."

For many smokers, the change is forcing them not only away from building entrances, but off campus entirely.

"In a way it's fair, because you shouldn't have to walk through somewhere where it smells like smoke if you're not a smoker," Ross added. "But it's not convenient for a smoker either, so it's not fair for everybody."

NKU is the tenth school in Kentucky to become 100 percent tobacco-free. Ohio also has 10 schools that have eliminated tobacco entirely.

In 2009, the American College Health Association adopted a "no tobacco use" policy, encouraging colleges and universities to be diligent in their efforts to achieve campus-wide tobacco-free environments.

Universities aren't the only organizations making the transition. More than 48 percent of the US population is now protected by 100 percent smoke-free workplace, restaurant and bar laws. As of November 2012, 31.4 percent of Kentuckians were covered by these comprehensive workplace laws and regulations. In northern Kentucky, Kenton County has adopted a smoke-free law and a number of significant employers, including St. Elizabeth HealthCare, have enacted tobacco-free policies.

"Our culture of health is creating an environment in which employees are choosing to make healthier lifestyle choices, and are freely accessing the comprehensive support that is available to them," Mearns said. "As leaders in our community, we have both an opportunity and a responsibility to act – to further protect the health of our students, employees and visitors; to further support the expectation that living, learning and working environments be tobacco-free; and to be fiscally accountable by doing our part in reducing the enormous economic burden that tobacco use has on our society."

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