Goucher joins growing list of smoke-free college campuses in Maryland

Goucher College prides itself on fostering life-altering experiences for its students, but school administrators recently learned of a troubling change occurring among the student body.

A survey conducted a few years ago revealed a number of students were arriving at Goucher as nonsmokers, but becoming smokers during their time on campus.

“We advertise that we are a transformative experience, but starting smoking is not what we’re talking about,” said Bryan Coker, the school’s dean of students. “That’s not a value we’re looking to instill.”

Those survey results — plus a handful of incidents in which second-hand smoke sent asthmatic students to the hospital — prompted the university to go smoke-free. The policy went into effect in July, but the fall semester that started last week is the policy’s first big test.

Students driving onto campus for the first time will see a sign reminding them that Goucher is smoke-free. Decals are slapped onto nearly every building to serve as a reminder.

The Towson-based liberal arts school joins a growing list of colleges that are banning smoking and tobacco on their campuses. The number doubled between 2012 and 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rising to 2,082 campuses nationwide that have a smoke-free policy in place.

The American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation tracks the number of colleges going “smoke-free” across the United States. They’ve identified 12 Maryland institutions that have banned smoking completely, including Morgan State and Towson universities. The majority of fully smoke-free schools in Maryland are community colleges.

“There’s been an uptick in the number of policies that have been passing since the 2000s,” said Cynthia Hallett, president of the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. “I anticipate we’ll continue to see more.”

The University System of Maryland Board of Regents, the governing body for the 12 public institutions under the system umbrella, passed a policy in 2012 that required its member institutions move toward becoming “smoke-free” campuses by the next year.

Such policies have the backing of the American College Health Association. Cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ, according to the CDC, and causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States.

Nearby schools’ experiences can provide a roadmap for Goucher as it moves to a smoke-free environment.

Towson University began discussions about the need to ban smoking more than a decade ago. The school’s policy went into effect in 2010.

“Even back then, it was clear that it was going to be a trend,” said Deb Moriarty, vice president for student affairs. “Because we had a slower roll-out period, there was plenty of time to talk about it.”

Some opposition came from a vocal minority of students who smoked, Moriarty said. And it was difficult at first to enforce the policy among campus visitors — like parents coming to move their children into dorms.

“Anytime you institute any change, it’s a bit of a challenge,” Moriarty said. “The minority of people on campus interested in smoking were causing a disruption to the majority of people who didn't want to be around smoke. We were thinking about the good and health of the community.”

At first, people caught smoking on Towson’s campus incurred a fine and were referred to a number of smoking cessation classes offered on campus.

Eight years later, Moriarty said, there’s no longer demand for cessation classes and fines aren’t enforced either — those measures just aren’t necessary anymore.

“I can’t even tell you the last time I saw someone smoking on campus,” she said.

The first time a person is caught smoking this year on Goucher’s campus, they will receive a formal warning. The second offense is punishable by a $25 fine, followed by a $50 fine if it happens again.

Coker hopes those fines won’t be necessary.

“We’ve been relentless with publicizing that this is coming,” he said.

Still, he knows that consistent enforcement will be a challenge at first.

“Folks naturally are hesitant to confront others,” Coker said. “We have staff doing this, but it depends on everyone being willing to remind others of what our community expectations are. Some folks are going to test the boundaries, but we’ll be very clear: Smoking is not to be done on college property.”

The Goucher policy bans all tobacco products, hookah and electronic smoking devices.

Some students say they’re skeptical about enforcement.

Sophomore Greta Coss said vaping is extremely popular on the woody campus, and it’s difficult to see how the new policy will end that.

Sophomore Tashi McQueen said the people who lived next door to her in the dorms last year would smoke frequently — both cigarettes and marijuana.

“So far, I haven’t seen anything to suggest it’ll be enforced more,” McQueen said. “I don’t think it’ll be that much of a change, but if they do enforce it, it’ll be a good thing for the campus.”

A number of colleges in Maryland bill themselves as smoke-free but have exceptions to what sounds like a blanket ban.

The University System of Maryland’s policy allows for smoking in “limited and specific designated areas on institution grounds” as approved by the university president.

That’s the case at the state flagship school, which become “smoke-free” in 2013.

On the University of Maryland, College Park campus there are four designated “smoking areas,” including next to the prominent McKeldin Library at the heart of campus. A list of FAQs about the policy brands these spaces as areas students can smoke on campus as they work toward quitting.

Hallett’s organization, the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, does not count campuses as being truly “smoke-free” if they allow for designated smoking areas. These areas still present issues of second-hand smoke and litter, she said.

“And for people who have quit, the visual cues and seeing people huddled together in designated areas might be a trigger for them,” Hallett said. “Young people might see them and say, ‘Oh, I want to try that.’ ”

Mike Lurie, a university system spokesman, said the board wanted to give campuses some flexibility.

“The essence of the USM decision regarding the smoking ban on campuses, and making limited spaces available, was centered on the reality that smoking itself, if one is of the proper age, is a legal activity,” he wrote in an email.

Goucher freshman Julian Dowell said having designated smoking areas is a smarter move than banning it altogether. Dowell doesn’t smoke, but some of his friends do, and he said many of them are frustrated.

“If they want to smoke, and it’s midnight, it can be dangerous to walk off campus,” he said, “especially if you’re not from the area.”

Other students who smoke say they are angry about a legal choice being taken away from them.

Goucher officials could not provide the survey data about increased smoking among students that helped spur the policy, but Coker is hopeful the smoking ban breeds a change of culture.

“We think most folks will get back, start studying and not think about smoking,” he said.

trichman@baltsun.com

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