Education

UK hopes smoking ban will help some people kick the habit

Guy Hamilton-Smith, a second-year law student at the University of Kentucky, smoked for 10 years before quitting last summer in preparation for the UK tobacco ban that went into effect Thursday.

"I knew I didn't want to have to quit right around finals time, so I made the decision (last) summer," Hamilton-Smith, 26, said at a morning press conference to usher in the new tobacco-free policy.

UK officials hope the ban on using tobacco products anywhere on campus — indoors and out — will lead more smokers to follow suit.

"Going tobacco-free may not be the easiest thing to do. It may not be the most politically popular thing to do, but in my mind it's the right thing to do for this campus and this commonwealth," said UK President Lee T. Todd Jr.

"As Kentucky's land-grant university, I believe it is our inherent responsibility to chart a new course for the commonwealth of Kentucky."

He said $1 billion a year is spent treating sick smokers in the state.

Last December, Todd, with the backing of the UK board of trustees, announced the formation of a task force to lay the groundwork for the new policy and figure out how to enforce it.

Students, faculty and staff are being encouraged to gently tell smokers on the campus grounds that the new policy is in effect. Eventually, enforcement could progress to stern warnings or disciplinary action against employees or students who are found to repeatedly violate the policy. "We get lots of questions about compliance and enforcement, but that's not what this is about," said Anthany Beatty, assistant vice president for campus services and co-chairman of the tobacco-free policy task force. "This is about creating this place, this culture, this environment that is a healthy place to live, work and learn."

The start of the ban coincided with the Great American Smokeout event sponsored by the American Cancer Society. The University of Louisville also implemented a new tobacco policy that established certain areas on campus as designated smoking spots.

Not everyone has been quick to embrace UK's policy.

More than 80 students — about half of whom lit up cigarettes, cigars or pipes — gathered at the campus' free speech area near the student center Thursday afternoon for an organized protest.

Wearing a "Jefferson is my homeboy" t-shirt, UK sophomore Lance Wheeler lit up a clove cigarette, took a long drag and declared to the crowd: "This is the smoke of liberty, my friends. Enjoy it."

Wheeler, an economics major from Charleston, W.Va., told the crowd that the policy violated students' freedom of speech.

"From now on, you smoke every day," Wheeler told the group. "We don't care what the officials from the administration say.

Ken C. Moellman, Jr., the chairman of the Libertarian Party of Kentucky, said while indoor smoking bans make sense for health reasons, banning tobacco use outdoors is a violation of personal liberties.

"Anyone who smokes on campus is simply exercising their free speech to protest the ban," Moellman said.

Ellen Hahn, professor of nursing and director of UK's Tobacco Policy Research Center, said she was disappointed that political groups have gotten involved and framed the issue as a violation of personal freedoms.

"But the bottom line is that, first, most of our students don't use tobacco and, secondly, if they do, they are light users," she said.

She quoted statistics from a campus study of 667 students, of which 262 are tobacco users.

Of those smokers, 34.5 percent said they planned to cut back now that the policy is in place, and 27 percent said they planned to quit in the next 30 days, Hahn said.

To help UK employees and students kick the habit, the university is providing free nicotine-replacement products, such as gum and patches, for 12 weeks, Hahn said.

UK allocated $150,000 for those efforts, said university spokesman Jimmy Stanton.

In addition, the Student Health Advisory Council has handed out "quit kits" on campus this week.

Thursday, Fadyia Lowe, a tobacco treatment specialist from UK Health Services, stood near the protest to give out individual S'mores with the label "Learn S'more about smoking" on them and the link to UK's tobacco information Web site, www.uky.edu/TobaccoFree.

She said few of those still smoking in protest had asked for one, but several students who said their friends smoked had picked up information.

For Hamilton-Smith, the law student, toothpicks have been a help during his transition from smoking. Instead of puffing on between one and two packs of cigarettes a day, he chews on 10 to 12 toothpicks.

His friends who still smoke haven't pledged to join him yet, but many have said they will cut back now that the ban has begun, he said.

"And they've been asking me a lot of questions," he said. But, as he said at the press conference, quitting isn't easy.

"Having smoked for so long, it really became part of my identity. The cigarette that was in my hand became as much a part of me as the rest of my arm was," Hamilton-Smith said. "Thinking that there was a day I could give that up was incomprehensible to me. So ... it's still quite astonishing to me that I've done it."

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