CHARLESTON, W.Va. --West Liberty University in the state's Northern Panhandle is the latest school to join a nationwide trend of tobacco-free college campuses, with plans to enforce a smoking ban next week.
The Ohio County-based university will prohibit the use of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and hookah, on all indoor and outdoor grounds starting Jan. 1.
West Liberty joins the ranks of more than 800 colleges across the country that have adopted smoke free campus policies, according to a 2012 report by the group Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights.
West Virginia University also plans to implement a complete smoking ban by next summer at its Morgantown campus.
Marshall University's Student Government Association passed a similar resolution earlier this year, and the Huntington school's Board of Governors is scheduled to consider a tobacco ban in February.
While nearly all of the state's other four-year institutions prohibit smoking in dorms and campus buildings, none of their campuses are entirely smoke-free except for the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg, which enacted a ban in 2004.
West Virginia Northern Community College, a two-year institution, also implemented a smoking ban in November.
Some institutions, like Fairmont State University, Shepherd University and WVU Tech, have implemented requirements to keep smokers at least 20 feet from main campus facilities.
"This is a huge trend across the country. Many campuses have gone completely smoke free without exemption. I think we're going to see many more West Virginia campuses get on board in the next year or so," said Bruce Adkins, director of the Division of Tobacco Prevention, a branch of the state Bureau for Public Health.
Only 15 percent of college students are smokers, according to Adkins.
"That's a very strong statistic if you think about it," he said. "You have to remember the tobacco industry heavily targets 18- to 24-year-olds to become smokers because many in that college-age group are away from home for the first time and more readily influenced. A smoking ban on campus keeps more people from easily getting hooked."
Tobacco use continues to be the leading cause of death and disease in the state, killing about 4,000 people a year, according to the Division of Tobacco Prevention.
The division provides grants to universities that want to promote smoking bans. West Liberty received help from the division to provide cessation programs and educational promotions.
While opponents argue that such sweeping smoking bans violate smokers' rights, Adkins said people need to be reminded that secondhand smoke is detrimental outdoors, too.
"People will argue that you're smoking outside, so that it's their right. But, the health risks are still there for everyone. The only safe way is for a complete, no-tobacco use policy," he said. "The smoking ban also deters young adults who are beginning to smoke and helps tobacco users who really want to quit. These policies are not only the healthy thing to do, but promotions for helping people to quit."
Zach Redding, student body president at WVU, said he's optimistic about the changes the state's largest university will see with the upcoming smoking ban.
"I personally am very happy that WVU has become a smoke free campus. Smoking does not only affect those who do it, but also those around them. Becoming smoke free creates a healthier atmosphere for all students," Redding said in an email Wednesday.
Ray Harrell Jr., Marshall's student body president, said Wednesday that surveys taken by the school's students, faculty and staff over the past several years prove a majority are in favor of a smoking ban.
For information and for free smoke cessation programs, visit www.wvdtp.org or call 304-356-4193.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.