Once upon a time, University of South Carolina students could seclude themselves in a filthy, unkempt room tucked away in the further recesses of Thomas Cooper Library and smoke to their heart’s content.
The room had worn carpeting, beanbag chairs, plenty of ashtrays, a smoky haze when it was occupied and a sulfurous odor when it wasn’t.
Armed with their Marlboros, their Winstons, their tony unfiltered Gauloises and Gitanes purchased at boutique tobacconists in Five Points, students prepared research papers, crammed for finals and debated the finer points of French existentialism while huffing and puffing just as furiously as Sartre and Camus ever did at Les Deux Magots.
Nowadays, the smoking student (and they do still exist) has fewer and fewer options, and has grown up knowing those options will only continue to diminish.
He or she of course can’t smoke in restaurants, bars, stores, and many public places. And starting Jan. 1, nobody can smoke anywhere on the University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus, either, which will be completely off-limits to any and all tobacco products.
Of course, if you’ve been around USC since at least 2006, this may not be all that much of a surprise, since that’s when the school banned smoking within 25 feet of all campus buildings.
With the New Year, the barrier is campus-wide, as the university will prohibit tobacco use — including smokeless tobacco and, yes, e-cigarettes — any and everywhere, including parked personal vehicles, on school property.
Jessica Johnson, chair of USC’s Tobacco Free Task Force, is hopeful the ban will involve a minimum of friction. It’s peer-enforced, which means students are expected to tell others not to smoke.
At the Tobacco-Free USC website, there’s a script that advises students how to go about addressing violators, which basically comes down to kindly reminding them that USC is a smoke-free campus, advising them of the available resources to help them quit, and gently telling them to put out their smokes.
Whether this will actually fly among students and their peers is another question, but violators can also be reported and repeat violators can be fined.
But Johnson is hoping it doesn’t come to that.
“We don’t want to start out putting the gavel down on everybody who lights up a cigarette,” Johnston says. “We want to inform them, we want them to be compliant with the policy but also to get help if they’re ready. If they’re not ready, we understand that.”
Getting people to quit, and take advantage of any of a variety of smoking cessation programs, is the ultimate goal, which Johnston knows will be tough.
She points out that it takes anywhere from seven to nine attempts to quit before people finally succeed.
“So we understand the road that is ahead of us, and we know that it is a social norm change, a culture change, and it’s going to take time, and we’re in it for the long haul,” she says.
On the plus side, smoke-free is the wave of the future, both for USC and other campuses.
“There’s over 1,200 colleges and universities that are smoke-free or tobacco-free,” she says, “and there’s almost 900 that are tobacco-free campus wide.”
Also, as more and more cities pass smoke-free ordinances, even a long-time tobacco state like South Carolina has reluctantly gotten on the bandwagon — to at least some degree.
The state still has low cigarette taxes: a pack here costs between $4 and $5, as opposed to states like New York, where it’s up to $14.50.
“That speaks a lot to the state’s environment and culture as it relates to tobacco use,” Johnston says.
She also expects the stance of the state’s flagship university to have a ripple effect at other schools.
“It will make it easier for some of the other colleges and universities who want to do this, to be able to point to a large university who’s done it in South Carolina — a very complex implementation, being surrounded by downtown,” she says.
Johnston says the 31 colleges which were represented at the SC Tobacco-Free College and University Summit last October acknowledged USC’s leadership role.
“What they have said to us is, if you can do it, we can do it, and so we’re setting a precedent here at the university,” she says
Let us know what you think: Email firstname.lastname@example.org.