All of Southern University’s campuses will ban tobacco starting in January, the Southern Board of Supervisors decided.
The move makes Southern the first college system in Louisiana to ban all tobacco products. Nicholls State University became the first public college in Louisiana to become tobacco free at the beginning of this calendar year.
Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. said the new policy is about promoting healthy lifestyles and setting a quality standard for all of higher education.
“We’re going to look at it as the beginning of a cultural change,” Mason said.
The ban will affect the main Southern academic campuses in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport, the Southern University Law Center and the Southern University Agricultural Center.
The LSU Health Sciences Center medical school in Shreveport is the only LSU System unit that forbids smoking - a policy that went into effect last year.
While no colleges in Louisiana allow smoking indoors, the new decision by Southern bans tobacco anywhere on the campus, including in parking lots.
Penalties could range from verbal warnings to student expulsion, according to the new policy.
Mason said the policies will be phased in without the intent of seriously punishing students or visitors. He said the emphasis will start with educating people through campus police, residence halls and student services and grow from there.
Student and employee opinions on the campuses are decidedly mixed.
Southern freshman Murrisha Rudison, of Baton Rouge, said she welcomes the change, especially because she suffers from allergic reactions to smoke.
“It hurts my chest when I walk by it,” Rudison said. “It’s bad for their health and everyone else’s. Secondhand smoke kills.”
But Southern law professor Maurice Franks, who does not smoke, said he sees the ban as an infringement of people’s personal freedoms, even if the ban is legal.
Smoking outdoors is mostly only a health hazard for the people choosing to smoke because secondhand smoke is less of an issue outside, Franks said. People should have the right to make their own decisions, he said.
“It seems to me they’re trying to protect people against themselves,” Franks said. “It (the institution) really has no place protecting me from me ? It’s a matter of government getting too intrusive in people’s lives.”
Smoker and Southern sophomore Theo Jones, of Franklin, also said Southern is taking away his rights. He said he will protest the new policy and that others should join in.
“We’ll do whatever we have to,” Jones said.
Mason argued Southern is not stopping anyone from smoking.
“They have their rights to do it, just not on the Southern campuses,” Mason said.
As for the flagship LSU campus, there are no plans to ban tobacco, but the LSU Faculty Senate is studying the issue.
LSU Chancellor Michael Martin said he may support toughened policies, but not necessarily an outright ban. He added that he is awaiting the faculty report.
“It’s my view that the best we can do is remove or minimize ?negative externalities’ but that enforcement would be highly problematic,” Martin said in an email response. “Game days could be especially challenging.”
LSU allows smoking outdoors, except within 25 feet of public doorways.
As for Southern and other historically black colleges, Earl Benjamin, manager of community programs for the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living, said the tobacco ban is a huge opportunity to “nurture those who are not nurtured.”
Benjamin noted that young blacks are marketed to more by tobacco companies and they are also exposed to more secondhand smoke than the general population.
The Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living has partnered for years with the Southern AgCenter.
Mason credited Southern Board Chairman Darren Mire, of New Orleans, with making the initial push for the tobacco ban.
Mire said he has enjoyed smoking cigars on campus, but he is more than happy to quit.
When asked if Southern could suffer by losing donations from tobacco companies, Mire said, “We’ve received more money from Tobacco-Free Living than from tobacco companies.”