Just over four years ago, Mid-Plains Community College took a brave step and became the first public post-secondary institution in Nebraska to enact a policy declaring that all of their college campuses would be entirely tobacco-free.
The MPCC Board of Governors approved the implementation of a tobacco-free policy for its campuses at its March 2009 meeting. They felt that the educational mission of the college could be expanded to include the benefits of a tobacco-free environment, which would promote health and wellness by assuring clean air as an overall benefit for students, employees, and guests who visit the College. It would also improve the visual appearance of the College and it would send a consistent message prohibiting the use of all tobacco products on all MPCC owned or leased property, including residence halls and vehicles.
In the fall of 2009, a simple e-mail announcement was sent to all college faculty, staff, administrators and students stating that MPCC’s policy implementation of a completely tobacco-free college would become effective Jan. 1, 2010. Tobacco-Free Campus signage was placed on signs in parking lots, in places where smokers had congregated in the past, and at building entrances.
The college held its collective breath. How would the new policy be accepted? Would there be major issues with current college students and employees and, even more concerning, what would be the impact on college enrollments?
As it turned out, those fears were unfounded. Four years after declaring itself “tobacco free,” the college has experienced its highest enrollments in MPCC history indicating that the change has not negatively impacted enrollments or college acceptance. Violations of the policy have been few and far between, but they do occur and MPCC asks for “respectful compliance.”
“There are always going to be those who will test the system, but most of my encounters have been with visitors to campus who just weren’t aware of the policy,” said Ryan Purdy, MPCC President. “I’ve just politely pointed out that they obviously didn’t know about our policy and then asked them to please respect it or move off campus. In every instance they have complied with my requests. In addition to the health concerns and visual aesthetics of campus, the two largest employers of our students, UPRR and GPRMC, both have tobacco free policies and allowing our students to use these products on campus as we train them for employment didn’t make much sense either.”
With the introduction of electronic cigarettes, MPCC’s Tobacco-Free Campus policy was expanded in February 2014 to include all types of electronic cigarettes as well. Once again, the policy has been accepted without any noticeable impact.
Several other colleges in the state have now followed MPCC’s tobacco-free campus policy and reports indicate that the University of Nebraska at Kearney is considering becoming a tobacco-free campus. Additionally, MPCC has appeared on the American Lung Association’s list of colleges and universities with 100% Tobacco-Free Campus policies since their June 2009 update.
According to Wendy Schramm, the original Chair of MPCC’s Tobacco-Free Task Force, “MPCC’s Tobacco Free Campus policy shows that the college takes seriously its leadership position of setting a positive, educationally-based example of promoting a healthier environment for all who visit the college.”