Smokers studying at the University of Maryland have one year to either kick their habit or find new, off-campus hangouts. UMD has announced that by June 30, 2013, all campuses in its system will be 100 percent smoke-free.
The backlash has begun.
"Drivers also pose a health risk with their behavior. Should we ban them too?" asked one commentator on a recent article in the Diamondback, the university's student newspaper. "Let's also ban bikers, who can crash into you. And runners who are not paying attention. Oh and lets add side walks, branches, squirrels, rats, cockroachs, fleas (bubonic plague?), the list goes on..."
Another sneered, "[M]aryland = nanny state. get out while you can." Still others invoked George Orwell's totalitarian "Big Brother" figure.
"I was appalled by the amount of apparent backlash to this ban," Arielle Miller, a rising junior at UMD's Baltimore campus, told The Huffington Post. Miller recalled living in an unconditioned dorm her freshman year, and said that smokers standing too close to buildings -- violating the mandate to stay 25 feet away -- caused her to close windows, eliminating the only respite from the heat.
"This is not, as some commenters say, some attempt by liberals to take away personal freedoms," Miller said. "It is the result of smokers' failures to comply with a policy that is already in place."
The university chose enforcement of already-existing policies over a full smoking ban in previous years. But this June, UMD's 17-member board of regents -- which includes one student representative -- voted unanimously in favor of the ban.
Joe Vivona, the UMD system's vice chancellor for administration and finance and chief operating officer, said he had heard of little controversy over the measures, though he noted that while on summer vacation, some students might not closely follow UMD news. He added that if disagreements arise, the system's schools may hold community forums about the issue. Disgruntled students may also air their concerns via student governments.
"Students will have more input if they seek it," Vivona said.
Although implementation of the policy will be left to the discretion of the 11 campuses in the system, UMD students lighting up on school property can expect a fine or other disciplinary action. Forbidden activity is defined in the policy as "carrying or smoking a lighted tobacco product or the burning of any material to be inhaled including, but not limited to, cigarettes, cigars, hookahs, and pipes."
Viveno said he didn't expect the policy to be particularly hard to institute and enforce, largely because of student support. He observed that in some cases, students themselves initiated the process of banning smoking from their campuses.
"We're supposed to be doing life-shaping in our education, and this is just another element," said Vivona.
There are now at least 774 completely smoke-free campuses in the U.S., according to a report issued earlier this month by the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation.
Some are in Maryland. Earlier this summer, the Community College of Baltimore County system forbade smoking throughout its three primary campuses in Catonsville, Essex and Dundalk. Deterrents include a $35 fine for repeat offenders. Towson has banned smoking in August 2010.
With the exception of Georgetown's medical school, however, none of D.C.'s colleges have implemented such a ban. Instead, institutions like American University, Georgetown and the George Washington University abide by standard laws forbidding smoking indoors, and direct smokers away from school buildings, in come cases to officially designated on-campus smoking areas.