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UK students plan smoking strategies as ban approaches

Next Thursday, tobacco use at the University of Kentucky will go up in smoke.

Or at least, that's the plan.

After nearly a year of laying the groundwork to enforce its new policy, UK will officially become a tobacco-free campus on Nov. 19 — the day of the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout.

That means not only will smoking be banned inside UK's buildings, but it won't be allowed on university-owned sidewalks, roads, grassy areas, benches or picnic areas where students often light up between classes.

"UK is really committed to this," said Ellen Hahn, professor of nursing and director of UK's Tobacco Policy Research Center, who has co-chaired the tobacco-free task force. "We're in the business of serving young people and creating a healthy place for them."

The university announced the effort in December. And while it hasn't attracted much public push-back, some tobacco users are trying to figure out where they'll take their smoke breaks as the ban approaches.

For some, that means risking a warning by continuing to discreetly smoke on campus.

"I'm probably going to still light up," said Jason Zhou, a senior who lives on campus and lamented the prospect of walking 10 minutes in cold weather just to smoke. "It's just ridiculous."

Zhou joined fellow mechanical engineering major Joe Fields for a smoke break next to one of UK's new Tobacco-Free Campus signs near White Hall Classroom building as a spontaneous, low-key protest Thursday afternoon.

"We saw it and figured, let's go smoke in front of it," Fields said of the sign.

Zhou said he'll probably participate in a protest of the ban and light up in front of the William T. Young Library next Thursday afternoon — something he heard about through Facebook.

Zhou said he wished UK would have allowed at least one designated smoking area.

That's what Bluegrass Community and Technical College's Cooper Drive campus and the other statewide community colleges did starting Aug. 15, said Vernal Kennedy, BCTC's director of communications. Smokers on the Cooper campus now gather behind the Moloney Building.

"It's gone well," Kennedy said. "We sometimes have to remind our students."

Hahn said the overarching goal of the UK ban on all tobacco — cigarettes and smokeless — is to improve the health of all students, staff and faculty by cutting down on second-hand smoke and encouraging users to quit.

About 19 percent of UK students smoke, and 30 percent said they were tobacco users, according to a May survey of 1,400 randomly selected staff, faculty and students. Of the staff, 20 percent used tobacco. Nine percent of faculty reporting using it.

UK has taken a broader survey this fall and will take another one in the spring semester to track the effects of the ban, Hahn said.

Two-thirds of those surveyed in May were supportive of the ban, Hahn said.

"We see very little pushback," she said. "Yes, there is a little, and people are talking about it and asking good questions. But by and large, people say good things."

Soud Alabbasi, a junior from Kuwait, said he has tried to cut back on the eight8 to 12 Camels he smokes each day.

"I actually hope it helps me quit or helps me smoke less," Alabbasi said of the ban. "Because it's not healthy — and it makes a person lazy."

His friend Amanda Moody, a sophomore from Marion County, joined him to bum a cigarette and said she was dreading the ban.

"College is stressful enough," she said. "I don't want to have to worry about getting caught."

Punishment isn't the point of the policy, Hahn said.

The policy will be reinforced in three ways:

■ Education, and more than 100 signs.

■ Encouragement for tobacco users to seek treatment, such as reducing the price of nicotine patches at campus stores.

■ Training UK employees and students to enforce the policy by telling smokers to put out their cigarettes.

UK's Web site, www.uky.edu/TobaccoFree, offers a script for people to follow as they approach smokers.

"We're not going to call the smoking police. There are no citations. There are no fines," Hahn said. However, consequences for employees and students who repeatedly disregard the policy range from reprimands to firings or referrals to the dean of students.

Some of the sidewalks and streets on campus are owned by the city and state. Hahn said even though the ban can't technically be enforced there, UK officials are asking that students and staff "honor our wishes" there, too.

John King, a junior psychology major, said he's pegged a spot in the median of Rose Street, which is not owned by UK. He said he views the ban as inconsistent.

"If the university wants to be very health-conscious, why not limit student meal plans to only vegetarian or take all the cars off campus to save us from exhaust fumes?" he said.

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