UM: Tobacco snuffed out 

University of Montana students and staff looking to pair their coffee with the occasional cigarette between classes will need to take a hike next fall—off campus. President George Dennison announced earlier this month that starting Aug. 28, 2011, tobacco use of any kind at UM is a strict no-no punishable by a report to the Dean of Students.

“In light of the U.S. Surgeon General’s findings that exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke and use of tobacco causes significant health hazards, The University of Montana will become a tobacco-free environment, effective Fall Semester 2011,” the policy reads.

Julee Stearns, head of UM’s Tobacco Task Force, says the effort to create a healthier environment on campus began in spring 2009 when Dennison expressed interest in designating UM smoke free. The policy gradually broadened to include all tobacco products—including chew—to make the issue less divisive among the campus population.

“We know that there is no safe tobacco product,” Stearns says. “If we just focus on smoking, we’re really kind of segmenting the population into two groups—protecting non-smokers from smokers—instead of advocating for everyone’s health.”

As positive as the task force’s goal is, Stearns concedes even non-smokers have raised concerns with the policy’s restriction on an individual’s right to use tobacco. But, at the same time, she claims some smokers believe the ban will actually help them quit. Besides, smoking isn’t necessarily a right, she says.

“People don’t have a constitutional right to smoke, they have the freedom to use this particular product,” Stearns says.

But modifying that behavior means pushing tobacco users off campus and into adjacent neighborhoods. Stearns has no idea what the impacts will be on UM’s residential neighbors, though she does have plans for initial mitigation measures.

“I would really like to see placement of cigarette receptacles and things on the perimeter of campus, so people have the opportunity to extinguish their products just on the edge of campus as opposed to in the neighborhoods,” Stearns says. “It’s hard to anticipate where exactly people are going to go.” If addiction is any hint, the answer seems pretty clear: anywhere.

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