Towson University will be a smoke-free campus, it announced Wednesday, becoming Maryland's first four-year college to ban an activity once as commonplace as lounging on the quad.
The reason for the policy, which goes into effect in August, is simple, administrators said: They want to reduce health risks from smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.
"I don't try to guide people in how they live their lives, but I am going to protect the campus so it's clean and pleasant for as many people as possible," said Towson President Robert L. Caret.
Smoking is already banned in campus buildings at Towson, but under the new rules, it will be off-limits on the grounds: on sidewalks, in garages and parking lots, and even outside the bar at Bill Bateman's Bistro.
Towson joins a rapidly growing list of U.S. colleges - at least 365, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation - that have banned smoking on campus. Last year, Montgomery College became the first Maryland institution of higher education to take the leap. Harford, Frederick and Carroll community colleges have followed suit. Pennsylvania's university system has banned smoking on all of its campuses.
"I don't really care that we're first on this one," Caret said. "It was done more for practical reasons. But I expect to see more schools go this way. It's just the trend today."
Towson officials have discussed the ban since last year, and the university held forums on the issue for faculty, students and staff. The Student Government Association voted to support the ban last month.
Caret said a survey found that a very small percentage of students and faculty smoke and that those who do smoke less frequently than they did in the past. The policy encountered some opposition from student leaders. "But there wasn't too much push-back," Caret said. "Very few objections on principle, mostly on pragmatic details."
Some students raised safety concerns about having to walk to the edge of campus late at night to smoke. Others wondered if the university will be able to enforce the rule, noting that a current ban on smoking within 30 feet of school buildings is only loosely followed.
"I don't know how they will ever successfully stop everybody from smoking. I think kids will just do it anyway," said Alex Lokey, a senior from Woodbine who smokes.
Lokey said he sees people breaking the 30-foot rule all the time and has never heard of anyone having to pay the $250 fine. For him, smoking is just part of college life.
"Obviously, it's a good thing [to ban smoking], but as a college student it's almost like a staple - coffee, cigarettes, stress and no sleep," Lokey said. "It's like a quintessential break from an overload of studying."
Students said existing rules have had little impact at Linthicum Hall, the English and psychology building and a well-known gathering place for smokers.
"You walk through there, and there are clouds of smoke," said Leslie Zuknick, a senior from Gambrills who does not smoke. "You smell like a cigarette when you walk out."
Caret said the ban will be easier to enforce than the more convoluted rules now in place.
"It will be more of a black-and-white issue," he said. He hopes the campus won't have to develop "smoking police" and instead will rely on administrators and supervisors to enforce the policy gently but firmly.
Students and staff members who violate the rules will face fines and sanctions. Visitors who light up may be barred from future access to the 328-acre campus.
Some students said the ban will improve campus.
Rachel Jochem, a senior from Tabernacle, N.J., said she thinks the smoke-free policy will promote a "better image" for the university and might attract students who don't smoke.
Casey Crass, a senior from Mount Laurel, N.J., said that most smokers just deposit their cigarette butts on the ground. "It's trashing our campus," Crass said.
In advance of the ban, Towson will offer free classes through its health center to help students, faculty and staff quit smoking.
"By not having smoking on campus, kids will stop smoking," said Lora Brown, a senior from Medford, N.J.