President of Ohio State University sends email to students, faculty, staff members saying he wants school to have policy banning smoking, use of tobacco products at all campuses by Aug. 1

COLUMBUS, Ohio , March 11, 2013 () – Ohio State could become the largest university in the state to go tobacco-free.

OSU President E. Gordon Gee sent an email to students and faculty and staff members yesterday saying that he wants the school to have a policy banning smoking and the use of tobacco products at all campuses by Aug. 1.

"Know that your health is at the heart of this initiative," he wrote in the email. "It is our intent to become the healthiest campus in the nation, and that is a vital step forward in that direction."

Campus officials said they didn't know exactly what the new proposal would include or how it would be enforced because they still need feedback before making a recommendation. They posted a draft policy yesterday afternoon that would ban anyone from using tobacco, including smokeless tobacco, on university property.

The policy would exempt "tobacco when integral to university research and tobacco-funded research."

But the draft doesn't go into any details, such as whether the ban would extend to parking lots, walkways or open areas such as the Oval, or whether visitors attending a campus event, such as a football tailgate party in a parking lot, would be prohibited from using tobacco.It's also unclear if people using personal vehicles on campus would be affected.

"Those are all good questions," said Andraea Douglass, OSU's new vice president of human resources.

Ohio State banned smoking in buildings in 1987. The Wexner Medical Center and surrounding health-science buildings have been tobacco-free since 2006.

Asked how the hospital complex enforces its ban, spokeswoman Liz Cook said there are signs, announcements in the garages and trash bins so people can throw away their cigarettes or other tobacco before entering the property.

"We offer cessation resources, and visitors can pick up nicotine replacement at our pharmacies within the hospitals," she said in a written statement. "If visitors choose to use tobacco products while visiting, they are able to step off Medical Center property."

The university will ask trustees for permission to change the school policy in April. It hopes to have a new tobacco-free policy ready by August that could be implemented after that, Douglass said. So far, officials have met with 26 groups representing faculty, staff, students and neighboring community members, and "there has been widespread support," she said.

But many college smokers said they don't tell others how to live their lives and oppose a ban.

"I think they should make some smoking zones," said Jay Lee, a 21-year-old international-studies major from South Korea who smokes.

"They just don't care about our rights," added Erik Strong, a 22-year-old logistics major from Westerville.

The Ohio Board of Regents voted last July to urge the state's public colleges to ban smoking and tobacco products on their campuses to set a good example.

Statewide, 15 public and private colleges and universities, including Cleveland State, Miami and Ohio Dominican, have policies against smoking, said Jeff Robinson, a Board of Regents spokesman. Seven more, including Columbus State Community College, Kent State and Ohio University, are considering it.

Ohio has the sixth-highest smoking rate in the nation, at 22.5 percent, and the eighth-highest among youth, at 21.1 percent, said Liz Klein, an assistant professor in OSU's College of Public Health.

"It's a real opportunity for OSU to take a stand and to help a challenging population," she said.

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