AUGUSTA — George Speck had 20 minutes between classes at the University of Maine at Augusta, so he walked to his car in the rear of the parking lot, put his books in the back and sat in the driver’s seat.
He lit a cigarette.
This is the only place on campus Speck is allowed to smoke under the university’s new tobacco free policy. The policy started Jan. 1, but the impact was first felt by students this week, after classes resumed on Monday.
Speck is new to UMA, so he wasn’t aware of the tobacco ban, but he typically smokes in his car anyway.
“Nobody wants cigarette butts on the ground,” said the 31-year-old Augusta resident. “People who don’t want to smoke, they don’t need to be inhaling it or walking through it.”
The UMA officials who approved the policy hope it will make UMA’s campuses in Augusta and Bangor cleaner and healthier.
Students, employees and visitors to the campuses and the nine University College centers are banned from using tobacco products or non-FDA nicotine products, such as electronic cigarettes.
There is one exception to the rule: People may use tobacco inside their vehicles with the windows rolled up as long as they dispose of cigarette butts inside the vehicle.
There will be penalties for violating the ban once a six-month grace period expires July 1. Until then, security staff and senior staff will hand out cards with information about the policy and a number to call for help to quit using tobacco, according to UMA spokesman Bob Stein.
Starting July 1, UMA employees who use tobacco on campus will be subject to the same progressive discipline process that applies for violations of other policies.
Students will get two warnings, and a third violation will trigger a formal student conduct procedure. Penalties start at a $25 fine or two hours of community service and escalate to possible suspension.
Policies like UMA’s are becoming more popular. According to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, there are at least 1,130 smoke-free campuses in the United States, and 766 are completely tobacco-free.
The University of Southern Maine also went tobacco free on Jan. 1. Colby College in Waterville will in September. The University of Maine took the same step two years ago in Orono.
There has been organized resistance at some campuses in Maine, including USM and the University of Maine at Farmington, but there have been no signs of anything similar at UMA.
Stein said he has received some complaints in response to emails and other communications distributed by the university.
“I think more and more people are understanding that this is a health issue and this is a policy that more and more places are embracing,” Stein said.
Lisa Keaton, a 47-year-old student from Farmingdale, said UMA’s previous policy of banning smoking within 50 feet of buildings was not enforced. She’s thrilled with the change and said most of her human services classmates are, too.
“I think it’s great because you’re not walking out of a classroom or wherever and into a cloud of smoke,” she said. “That’s going to help everybody.”
David Denton, a 20-year-old student from Augusta, said some restrictions on tobacco use are ridiculous, but he’s not particularly bothered by UMA’s policy. He said he smokes occasionally.
Speck, although he smokes more than occasionally, said he doesn’t mind being relegated to his car.
“These are the prices we pay for our education,” he said. “They don’t want us to smoke on the grounds, we won’t smoke on the grounds.”
Susan McMillan — 621-5645