As fall classes begin, Georgia Military College has officially stamped out smoking on its Augusta campus.
The school joins a growing list of Georgia colleges and universities that have implemented anti-tobacco policies on campus.
Several Georgia colleges began to take more interest in such restrictions after Emory University, an Atlanta institution with a nationwide reputation, declared in 2012 that it was becoming tobacco-free. That means it now prohibits all forms of tobacco use.
Some schools have stopped short of adopting this kind of tobacco-free rule. Instead they have implemented the somewhat less restrictive smoke-free rule. It bans the use of cigarettes, cigars and pipes but does not prohibit smokeless tobacco.
In Georgia, tobacco-free colleges include Altamaha Technical College, based in Jesup, Gwinnett Technical College in Lawrenceville and the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. A total of 19 Georgia schools meet the American Lung Association’s 100 percent tobacco-free guidelines.
“We commend Emory for leading Georgia in this movement,” said June Deen, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Georgia. “It’s great — we’re seeing more and more college campuses go tobacco-free.”
Deen said community tolerance for tobacco use is dwindling on campuses across the state. But she acknowledged that it continues to be a struggle to persuade schools to become fully tobacco-free. Neither the University of Georgia nor Georgia Tech, for example, are either tobacco-free or smoke-free.
For a school to be considered tobacco-free, all tobacco products must be banned from not only the on-campus property around school buildings, but all parking garages, employee and student cars, and sidewalks surrounding the school’s properties. Banned items include cigars, pipes, all forms of smokeless tobacco, clove cigarettes, or any other smoking devices that simulate the use of tobacco, such as electronic cigarettes.
“For each school, the process for becoming tobacco-free is a little different. Emory took the initiative, taking the cue from the administration and surveys,” said Ateya Wilson, Georgia area manager for the American Lung Association.
At Georgia State University in Atlanta, she said, it was a student-run initiative. “For some campuses it’s about the students. For others, it’s a push by the administration.”
“We have been working on smoke-free campuses for the last 10 to 15 years,” Wilson added.
Some critics of campus anti-tobacco rules argue that they infringe too much on people’s choices. They say, for instance, that smoking in an open outdoor area poses no inconvenience to nonsmokers.
But the CDC says secondhand smoke is still a danger. A 2006 report by the U.S. surgeon general concluded that the scientific evidence indicates there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
Breathing secondhand smoke causes platelets in the blood to become stickier, increasing the likelihood of clots and narrowing of the arteries, the report said. This damage to the lining of the arteries can cause heart disease to develop or get worse, the CDC says.
The question of enforcement
Wilson of the American Lung Association said, “The tobacco movement now is kind of how the ‘Say No’ campaign [an anti-drug promotional effort] was in the ’80s. . . . I think people are just more aware healthwise, and more aware of the associated risks of tobacco.”
Awareness, of course, does not necessarily mean a change in behavior, which is why so many schools have adopted rules against tobacco. But making a rule — on tobacco or anything else — is often easier than enforcing it.
Sanctions against violators of anti-tobacco policies at several Georgia schools appear fairly limited. The consequences for smoking at Emory, for instance, are “disciplinary actions through the Student Code of Conduct Board.” And even these disciplinary actions can be taken only against Emory students, although the tobacco-free rule officially applies to everyone who comes onto campus.
The final hurdle for making any campus smoke-free is to obtain full compliance with the policy that is in place. But ultimately, that may depend more on attitudes than on punishments.
“Most smoke-free campus policies are self-enforced, meaning that additional resources are not required for enforcement, relying instead on voluntary compliance and changes in social norms across the community,” said Joel London, a health communications expert at the CDC.
“Similar to smoke-free policies in indoor areas of public places and workplaces across the country, experience from multiple colleges and universities shows that campus-wide tobacco-free policies are largely complied with and supported by the community,” London said.
Georgia high schools are also taking steps to ban tobacco products from all their premises.
“We train . . . [students] to talk to their peers,’’ Wilson said, “and give them tools to serve as leaders in their communities to go and speak to other students about resisting tobacco use.”
Wilson emphasized that education about the dangers of tobacco goes hand-in-hand with policy changes. “The state . . . did a great job implementing smoke-free or tobacco-free policies,” she said.
More than 80 school districts in Georgia are now tobacco-free, according to the state Department of Public Health.
GHN intern Sofia Kouninis is an Emory University student.