NMCC goes tobacco free
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — No ifs, ands or “butts” about it, NMCC is now a tobacco-free campus.
While students and staff were previously permitted to smoke in designated areas, tobacco use anywhere on campus is now prohibited.
“State law says that you can’t smoke within 50 feet of a public entrance,” said Linda Mastro, director of health services at NMCC. “The problem was that in the wintertime, people would tend to huddle by the doors because it was 40-below zero and they would try to find shelter to smoke.
“We did make a designated smoking area out back of our building trying to take smoking from the front where a lot of students enter, and did our very best to respect the smoker because they certainly have the right to smoke if they desire, but also respect the students who do not smoke and make sure that they have access to our doors and clean air,” she said. “In addition to having a designated smoking area, we also had signage that said, ‘No smoking within 50 feet of the building.’ A lot of the smokers respected the areas and did what they could, but some of them were smoking closer to the doorways. By making the campus tobacco-free, we’re making sure that it won’t be a problem.”
The new policy, which took effect Sept. 1, pertains to everyone — employees, faculty, staff, students and visitors.
“Everybody will have to be off campus to smoke or use other tobacco products,” said Mastro.
NMCC President Timothy Crowley said the policy, which is consistent with the college promoting a healthy lifestyle, is a way to help improve peoples’ health.
“Obviously smoking is not good for you; in fact, it’s deadly. We just don’t want it here,” he said. “It’s not the smokers we don’t like, it’s just the smoke. It’s taken us a few years to get to this point, but we think it’s the right move.
“In many places, smoking is not allowed, so we might as well prepare our students to face that reality when they go to work,” said Crowley. “Most higher education institutions in the state are making this change if they haven’t already made it. The Maine Community College System, as a whole, has about a year to put a campus plan in place and make the change. We’re ahead of that a little bit, but by this time next year, all MCCS campuses will be tobacco free.”
Locally the plan was talked about prior to the end of the spring 2014 semester, so students and staff knew the change was coming.
“The students who were living in the residence halls previously knew that before we left campus. It was put out prior to the end of the semester that we were going tobacco free,” Mastro said, noting that signage, including the college’s electronic bulletin boards, have been notifying people of the new policy. “We had faculty and staff meetings and they had input, so the word had been out there.”
A tobacco cessation specialist for the state, Mastro can assist faculty, staff and students in stopping tobacco use.
“They had that option back in the spring when this was first talked about,” she said. “This has been in the works; people have had plenty of information about the change, and we have certainly tried to support them in whatever choice that they make.”
Mastro said one student shared with her that he tended to smoke more on campus than when he was at work because the students would smoke during their breaks and it was easy for him to join in.
“As we promote wellness and change some of those habits, and don’t have a place for a smoke break,” Mastro said, “this student knew he would smoke less at school and wanted to give it up and work with me on smoking cessation.
“Another thing that I’ve heard from students is, obviously, you cannot smoke on high school campuses, and then students come to a college campus for the first time where they can smoke. That could sometimes entice the younger students to try smoking,” she said. “By promoting a healthier environment, I think we’ll have less of a risk of students coming to campus and seeing smoking as part of the college experience. We don’t want that.”
The new policy, Crowley said, will be enforced.
“From a student code of conduct standpoint, students will be warned, and after the initial warning there will be disciplinary action for students,” he said. “It will be the same approach with employees. If you don’t enforce a policy, there’s not much sense in having one.
“I anticipate there will be challenges,” said Crowley. “Tobacco is an addiction and it will be difficult for some people, but we think it’s a step in the right direction.”