Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Montgomery College campuses will be smoke-free in August

All tobacco products will be prohibited

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Starting Aug. 1, midway through its second summer session, Montgomery College will ban all tobacco products on school property.

With the establishment of the new policy — which includes cigarettes and chewing tobacco and applies to all buildings, athletic fields, pedestrian walkways, entryways, outdoor terraces, campus bus stops, parking lots and inside vehicles on campus — Montgomery College will join four other Maryland colleges and 131 colleges nationwide that have 100 percent smoke-free campuses, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation.

The ban applies to all three campuses of the college: Rockville, Germantown and Silver Spring⁄Takoma Park.

‘‘We’re not telling people they can’t smoke,” said Dr. Judy E. Ackerman, vice president and provost of Montgomery College’s Rockville campus. ‘‘They just can’t smoke here.”

The new rule will replace a partial restriction that prohibits smoking within 25 feet of any campus buildings, Ackerman said.

The tobacco-free policy was recently approved by the Board of Trustees after a yearlong series of discussions by the college’s Tobacco and Smoke Free Task Force.

The task force, composed of faculty, staff and students, began meeting in the spring of 2007 with the goal of revising the school’s tobacco policy.

School officials are hoping the transition to a tobacco-free campus is an easy one, but other schools have experienced some resistance.

Frederick Community College suffered a rash of vandalism in 2007 after limiting smoking to parking lots the previous spring. According to an article by the Associated Press in October, vandals stole toilet paper and trashed men’s bathrooms, scrawling an ultimatum on the wall: lift the smoking ban and the vandalism will stop.

The school responded instead by issuing a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators, the news article states.

Frederick Community College officials did not return calls seeking comment for this report.

Ackerman said she hopes nothing so severe would happen at Montgomery College, but said there is some resistance to the change.

‘‘Some students and some employees are complaining,” she said.

Three or four part-time Healthy Campus Advocates will be hired to patrol the Rockville and Takoma Park⁄Silver Spring campuses and make sure the new policy is being followed, Ackerman said.

Montgomery College spokesman Steve Simon said the Healthy Campus Advocates are tentatively expected to be in place for three or four weeks — until people get used to the policy — but administrators will play it by ear in case anything changes.

Another source of resistance college officials may face is that the ban would force smokers to stand on sidewalks at the edge of the school property, such as the one along Mannakee Street, across from the Carver Building, which houses Montgomery County Public Schools headquarters.

Ackerman said the school system also imposes a smoking ban and employees can often be seen smoking on the sidewalk there.

‘‘We do, as a society, say that sometimes you can’t bring certain things certain places,” Ackerman said. ‘‘Do I expect there will be some people who will be unhappy? Probably. It is a change, and changes take some getting used to.”

In 2001, the college received funding from the Maryland State Cigarette Restitution Fund to support the Healthy Campus Program. The program also receives grants from four other anti-smoking groups, as well as funds for other health- and safety-oriented programs.

‘‘Montgomery College’s new tobacco-free policy encourages healthy choices among our faculty, staff and students,” Montgomery College President Dr. Brian K. Johnson said. ‘‘As an institution of higher learning, the Montgomery College community should be a model for health education and wellness for the greater community.”