Edison State College’s recent decision to ban tobacco products on its campuses puts it out in front of its peers on the health and environmental issue.
Other Southwest Florida institutions, including one with an environmental mission, still allow smoking on campus, despite a growing trend around the country to snuff out smoking.
Florida Gulf Coast University officials considered a campus-wide ban about six years ago, but a vote by faculty and staff went against it.
“I think the current policy belies our commitment to be an environmentally-green campus,” said FGCU professor Wayne Robinson. “Filters are the number one litter in the ocean. Secondhand smoke should be a number one issue for our president.”
Some of Robinson’s students have mounted an effort to do away with on-campus smoking.
FGCU student Lindsey Johnson was part of Robinson’s Foundations of Civic Engagement class in the fall that built its service project around lobbying to ban smoking on campus. She said the effort is based on the ill health effects of secondhand smoke, as well as the overwhelming amount of litter represented by discarded cigarette butts.
As part of their work, Johnson and her classmates gathered information about fellow students’ attitudes toward smoking and started formulating a lobbying campaign to do away with the habit on campus.
“With a lot of the surveys we got, we found that a lot of people would support a smoke-free FGCU,” Johnson said. “A lot of people thought that, being that FGCU is an environmentally-friendly campus, and that is our mission statement, it kind of goes against what FGCU believes in (to allow smoking).”
Johnson and fellow students got organized under the anti-smoking banner during a fall class with Robinson, who the Daily News wrote about last fall after one of his students flagged the class as an example of “leftist abuse” to conservative college outreach Web site campusreform.org.
Robinson said he has asked President Wilson Bradshaw’s office about the issue in the past, only to be told that members of his cabinet feel that there is too much opposition by students.
Johnson and another student from Robinson’s class have gotten inspired to get more involved, and have plans to work with his spring semester class to push the initiative to the next level. Johnson said she hopes to eventually place the issue before the FGCU board of trustees.
“I believe that we are joining that discussion right now,” said FGCU Provost Ron Toll. But, he said, “It would be premature to say where it’s going to go.”
Toll said the current policy is working well, with most students and staff remaining respectful of the limits on where they can smoke and what they do with their cigarette butts. Enforcement of the policy is generally verbal — anyone smoking outside the designated areas is respectfully reminded of the rules.
“I believe we will have further discussions,” Toll said. “I believe the faculty is beginning to talk about it, and I think the students have certainly begun to talk about it. We’re listening for the results of those conversations and hope to be informed by them.”
A ban on tobacco products at all four Edison campuses, passed unanimously by trustees Jan. 26, goes into effect in May.
Other universities and colleges in the area allow smokers to congregate outside, away from entrances.
At FGCU and Ave Maria University, students are allowed to smoke in designated areas along the walkways of the school’s campus. Both campuses are built on more of a traditional college blueprint than Hodges, with buildings scattered throughout the main campus, connected by outdoor walkways.
While indoor smoking has been banned at most colleges and universities since the 1990s, more and more schools are slowly forcing tobacco off campuses completely.
Following a survey conducted in conjunction with campus elections, Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton is implementing its own smoking ban. That effort began with students, who placed questions about smoking policies on the student body government ballot last spring.
Roughly 75 percent of students supported creating designated smoking areas, and 65 percent supported a campus-wide smoking ban, said Student Services Director Rosemary Dunbar.
FAU has plans to be completely smoke-free within a year.
After banning smoking at its stadium and medical facilities, the University of Florida campus in Gainesville made the decision to ban all smoking from its campus, starting in July.
“That’s a big campus,” said Dunbar. “That’s a lot of people. If they can make it happen, we can make it happen too.”
Officials at Edison will also phase in smoking bans. The college had already outlawed smoking on its Charlotte County and Hendry/Glades campuses starting in August, making it the first college in Florida to go completely smoke-free, said college spokeswoman Catherine Bergerson.
“We have been talking about it for years, and studying it for years,” said Bergerson. “The first wave, if you will, went into effect in August on our Charlotte County campus. ... Since then it has been very well-received.”
Edison student Logan Mohring, 21, said it makes sense for a campus attended by youngsters and adults alike. The effects of smoking typically hit more people than just the smoker, he said.
“The way the campus is built, there’s (outdoor) hallways and walkways that are very long and the smoke just gets trapped,” said Mohring, president of a student anti-smoking organization at Edison.
Plus, he said, emerging research on third-hand smoke — the carcinogens on clothing or car seats, can affect other people almost as negatively as secondhand smoke.
“Our biggest goal, though, is to slowly bring the idea that the campus will be smoke-free,” he said. “With these types of changes, the most important thing is to gradually do it — not to do it cold turkey.”
At Edison, officials sent an e-mail to the entire campus community to let them know about the availability of cessation programs, which will be offered through local health agencies, Bergerson said.
“We understand that compliance will be difficult in the early days,” Bergerson said. “We want everyone to know that we have cessation help available and that they can contact human resources.”
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Connect with education reporter Leslie Williams Hale at naplesnews.com/staff/leslie_hale