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University tobacco bans now in effect

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On campus today, at Marshall and West Virginia universities, not much looks different from how it looked last week.

But pay attention, and you might notice that the receptacles for discarded cigarettes aren't there anymore. And there are probably a few signs scattered here and there, declaring that you're on a tobacco-free college campus. The air might be a little clearer.

And that signifies a huge shift in policy at West Virginia's two largest universities.

Both schools decided recently — WVU in June of 2012, Marshall on June 11 — to implement tobacco bans on their campuses. Both bans take effect today, July 1.

That puts the schools in step with a slew of other colleges nationwide that have been taking up smoking and tobacco bans. At last count, 783 schools had instituted tobacco-free policies, meaning that they don't allow smoking or other tobacco products on campus, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation. More than 1,150 schools have policies against smoking cigarettes on campus.

"I think in general, I think what we've seen over the last five years is this rapid growth in the number of college campuses doing this," said Cynthia Hallett, executive director at the foundation. "The number of these campus policies has grown exponentially."

These will be the first schools in West Virginia to ban all tobacco products, though a few already have smoking bans in place — including the health sciences campuses at both Marshall and WVU.

Amy Johns, director of public relations at WVU Healthcare and Health Sciences, saw the transition take place at WVU's health sciences campus in 2010.

She said that transition was generally smooth. There was some pushback from the community — but not a lot.

"There always is pushback when there are changes — that's to be expected," she said. "And let's face it, it's an addiction, it's not just a bad habit, so there are real reasons why some people find it so difficult to give up smoking and we recognize that."

To counter that, both schools are offering smoking cessation services to students and employees.

Johns also said that enforcement — one of the major sticking points when discussing the policies — has not been an issue so far. Neither Marshall nor WVU plans to divert resources to policing the smoking ban but are trusting that it will still be followed.

"I think it's gong to be mostly self-policed . . . And to be honest with you, I think we have some folks who won't have a problem telling other people if they see them disobeying it," said Matt Turner, Marshall's chief of staff.

"It will obviously be a transition, but I don't envision that this is something that people are gong to intentionally come out and violate the policy."

The idea is to alter the culture on campus enough that people won't even consider smoking there — much the way it is now, years after schools banned smoking inside university buildings.

Johns said that has held true at WVU's health sciences campus.

"There has been a major change on campus," she said. "Before, people would be smoking in front of the hospital. It didn't look good and it wasn't healthy. . . . But that definitely is changed now."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.

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