Montgomery College Snuffs Out Smoking

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 1, 2008

First, smokers had to move outside the building. Then it was 25 feet from the building entrance. Now it has come to this: Starting today, Montgomery College is banning tobacco anywhere on campus -- inside or outside.

The community college is one of a growing number of campuses nationwide taking a hard line on tobacco, signaling a broader cultural shift. No more professors lighting up pipes in their offices, no cigarettes sold in stores, no students chewing tobacco while watching football games.

Reactions from smokers ranged from stunned to furious -- and often unprintable.

"Outside?" gasped Isaac Kim, who's about to start pre-pharmacy classes at the Silver Spring/Takoma Park campus. "Do they have the right to do that?"

But many were delighted when they saw banners trumpeting the rule, which they view as a sign of the positive influence that colleges can have in protecting students and employees from exposure to smoke, promoting healthier habits and encouraging the downward trend in the numbers of young smokers.

"I think it's great," said Monica Brown, a nursing student from Silver Spring. "I don't like the way smoke gets in my hair and my clothes. And I worry about the health risk."

More than 130 campuses nationwide have gone smoke-free, most commonly medical schools and community colleges, reports the Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation.

About 60,000 students take classes at Montgomery College, which apparently is the first Washington area college to ban tobacco. Most local universities do not allow smoking in buildings, including dorms, and require smokers to stand a certain distance from entrances.

"Almost certainly within five years, virtually all college campuses will be smoke-free," said John Banzhaf, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University and executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, who pushed GW to ban smoking indoors. (It did but resisted his attempt in 2006 to eliminate smoking outdoors as well.)

Michael J. McFadden, a smokers' rights advocate, said he would not argue that smoking is unhealthful for the smoker. But he said the idea of cigarette smoke outside affecting others' health borders on craziness.

"Whatever exposure to 'poisons and particulates' might occur from such contact is dwarfed by the exposures to whatever pollutants waft over the campus from any of the school's parking lots or nearby roads," he wrote in an e-mail.

Some see the ban as a step too far -- a punitive and unfair restriction on something that should be a matter of personal choice. Chewing tobacco, for example, isn't a danger to anyone other than the chewer.

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