LSU moves to ban smoking on its Baton Rouge campus

LSU’s main campus is going tobacco-free this fall.

“It’s been a very long haul,” said Judith Sylvester, an associate professor at LSU who has led the charge to ban smoking on campus. “I’m very, very happy, but I’m also very realistic. Just having the policy is less than half the battle.”

LSU already limits smoking to designated areas, but advocates have pushed to further make the campus free of any tobacco products.

The Louisiana Legislature approved a law last year requiring colleges and universities to develop their own “smoke-free” policies. That legislation, which serves as an addendum to the Louisiana Smoke-Free Air Act that prohibits smoking in some public places and workplaces, states that colleges also can go the extra step of excluding all tobacco.

Sylvester said she and other supporters hope the new policy will push smokers and other tobacco users to quit.

“The state spends billions every year on taking care of smokers who have cancer, lung disease, heart disease,” Sylvester said. “We have solid reasons for doing this.”

LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard confirmed that a committee is working on LSU’s anti-tobacco policy change and said the goal is to have it in place by Aug. 1.

The policy doesn’t exactly have teeth. Campus police won’t be able to write tickets for smoking, and leaders acknowledge that it will be more of a recommendation to campus visitors and tailgating football fans.

But Sylvester said she hopes the campus community will take on the role of self-policing to stamp out tobacco.

“We’re definitely going to use the social-norming approach,” she said. “Seventy percent of us do not use any kind of tobacco products. We are the norm, not the tobacco user.”

The stricter “no tobacco” designation will ban other products beyond cigarettes, including smokeless tobacco. The policy is expected to also contain a provision that will directly outlaw e-cigarettes, which are nicotine based but don’t contain tobacco.

“There’s a learning curve here, and it’s not going to be perfect on day one,” Sylvester said.

Southern University has banned tobacco use on its campuses since 2012.

Southern’s penalties range from verbal warnings to student expulsion, according to that university’s policy.

Sylvester said she believes an educational period will help LSU transition to its new tobacco-free status.

“That’s going to be our first approach,” she said.

Signs will be erected to provide notice of the policy.

Sylvester said she expects the university will distribute cards that people can hand out to people they spot smoking that explain the campus policy and the dangers of tobacco use. She also would like to see the university’s kiosks around campus promote the new policy with similar information.

A website is in the works to provide more information.

“That’s going to be the most critical piece,” Sylvester said.

Fresh Campus, a campus student group that’s affiliated with the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living, also has been pushing for the tobacco ban.

Sylvester, who has been studying campus smoking habits for several years, said smoking was on the decline before Hurricane Katrina and repeated higher education budget cuts and tuition hikes. She believes those factors led to an eventual bounce-back.

“All of these things put so much stress on campus,” she said. “We started going back up.”

A survey she conducted found that about 30 percent of LSU undergraduates are at least social smokers, having smoked a cigarette in the past month.

“It’s an epidemic, and it’s deadly,” she said. “It takes so long that people don’t realize how bad it is.”

She said it goes beyond health, though. Tobacco products also contribute to litter.

Thousands of cigarettes are lit up on campus each weekday. “The majority of them are still on the ground,” she said.

The proposed tobacco-free policy must be approved by LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander, but he is expected to sign off on it.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp.