In March, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia (USG) approved a policy prohibiting the use of tobacco products on all system property, including the 31 member institutions. While the University of North Georgia (UNG) already restricts tobacco use, the USG policy, which goes into effect Oct. 1, calls for a complete ban.
The new policy will apply to all employees, students, contractors, subcontractors, and visitors and is applicable 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the University System's 31 member institutions. Also, all events hosted by a USG-entity or on behalf of the USG shall be tobacco and smoke free, according to the policy.
"Our aim with this policy is to preserve and improve the health, comfort and environment of employees and any persons occupying USG facilities," said Marion Fedrick, the USG's vice chancellor for human resources.
The USG policy follows the lead of more than half of all USG institutions that already are tobacco and/or smoke free, including UNG. The Gainesville Campus of UNG was the first in Georgia and third in the nation to go tobacco free. Currently, tobacco use is allowed in UNG parking lots, as long as tobacco products are contained within the vehicle. That won't be allowed when the new USG policy goes into effect.
UNG's current policy also bans tobacco products in residence halls on UNG's Dahlonega Campus. Privately-owned apartment complexes will not be affected by the USG policy, though some may have their own rules regarding tobacco. At UNG-owned retail locations like coffee bars and food courts located on the Dahlonega, Gainesville and Oconee campuses, smoking already is prohibited by state law and UNG policy.
Violations of the policy will be handled under the Student Code of Conduct or university human resource policies. Visitors refusing to comply with the policy may be asked to leave campus. While each institution's president is charged with enforcing the policy, the USG policy notes that it is also a shared community responsibility.
"The new USG policy aligns with the spirit of UNG's institutional mission to encourage good decision-making and respect for others," said Dr. Janet Marling, acting vice president of student affairs. "I understand this policy will be a challenge for some members of our community and I encourage these individuals to seek nicotine cessation products and consultation available through Student Health Services. As an institution, our goal between now and October will be to engage in proactive dialog to determine how everyone can take ownership of the policy enforcement. Ultimately, we wish to shift to a healthier environment for everyone on all four of our campuses."
In the 2014 report from the Surgeon General, Assistant Secretary for Health and Safety Howard Koh stated, "Cigarette smoking remains the chief preventable killer in America, with more than 40 million Americans caught in a web of tobacco dependence."
USG's Fedrick also cited health concerns in discussing the new policy.
"The University System recognizes these serious health implications and feels it's our responsibility to promote the health and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and visitors," Fedrick said.
The University System, along with campuses, will provide information on tobacco cessation for those seeking assistance. Employee resources for tobacco cessation can be found on the USG Workplace Wellness website at http://www.usg.edu/wellness.
Research is a core mission of the University System and would provide the only exception to the policy, according to the USG. Any such exception, according to the policy, would be determined by the president of each institution.
The University System is not the first government entity in Georgia to ban smoking. In 2005, Georgia passed the Smokefree Air Act, banning smoking statewide in most workplaces. Some two dozen cities across the state have passed stricter laws banning smoking in bars and/or restaurants, including nearby Athens and Gainesville.