BALTIMORE – About one-third of Maryland colleges and universities have decided to follow a recent national trend to ban smoking on college campuses.
The majority of institutions clearing the air are community colleges and the ten campuses within the University System of Maryland, which adopted a system-wide smoke-free policy last year. Only two private schools in the state, both with religious affiliations, have enacted smoking bans.
Across the country, colleges and universities are rapidly adopting smoke-free policies. Since 2010, the number of smoke-free campuses has more than doubled, and 1,127 institutions now prohibit puffing on their premises, according to the American Nonsmokers Rights Foundation, which collects national data on smoke-free initiatives.
“We’re seeing activity in all corners of the country and by all kinds of campuses,” said Liz Williams, a project manager for the American Nonsmokers Rights Foundation. “In the last four years, we’ve seen a massive uptake [of smoke-free policies].”
Williams said there has been slightly more activity from state and publicly-funded universities, which is consistent with the pattern in Maryland where it is legal to light up at more than 20 private institutions.
But although more and more schools are adopting smoke-free policies, the enforcement mechanisms at individual institutions can look vastly different.
In Maryland’s public universities, repercussions for violating campus smoke-free policies range from harsh fines to no penalty at all. Frostburg State University and University of Maryland, College Park are among the schools that rely on the honor code to enforce smoking policies, while at Salisbury University and Towson University policy violators can face a $75 fine.
Depending on the size of the campus and other factors, some smoke-free institutions may permit a few “designated smoking areas.” The main smoking area at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County is referred to by students as “The Pit,” said senior Richard Sherman.
The Pit, a U-shaped enclosure in a secluded parking lot surrounded by a short cinderblock wall, provides no protection from rain or snow. A bench and trash can were recently added, Sherman said.
“It can feel a little demeaning at times,” he said.
Still, the senior understands the reasons for the new policy.
“It’s kinda a nice ideal to separate the people that are smoking from the people that don’t want to … because they don’t want those fumes, but it would be nice if there were other places [to smoke],” Sherman said.
Maj. Paul Dillon, of UMBC campus police, oversees the enforcement of the smoking ban. He said the department has issued warnings, but will wait to dole out $50 fines until students acclimate to the new campus rule.
Junior Ben Gruber said he takes issue with the the idea of campus employees specifically hired specifically to enforce the smoking ban.
“They have people … to supposedly watch and make sure smokers are not wandering outside the designated areas, which seems like a strange way to spend taxpayer money,” he said.
Maryland campuses without smoking bans have policies that forbid students from smoking inside or too close to buildings, and vary similarly when it comes to enforcement mechanisms.
At Goucher College, students can face up to a $250 fine for smoking too close to a building, said Director of Media Relations Kristen Pinheiro, while at St. John’s College in Annapolis, students let their conscience be their guide, according to Director of Communications Patricia Dempsey. At Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, students may have to write an essay or reflection paper as penance, Dean of Students Michael Taberski said.
“If a student is involved with something like smoking, we want them to understand why there is a policy,” he said.
Educational sanctions are consistent with what Williams said should be the ultimate goals of smoke-free policies: education and communication.
“The purpose of the smoke-free campus policy is to educate rather than punish,” she said. “That said, to be effective, you do want to have some consistent and clear enforcement measures in place.”