RCC could stamp out smoking

A brisk wind swirls around the downtown building where Rogue Community College students hunker to puff on cigarettes between classes. But a change in policy being considered by college officials could soon blow away any opportunity they have to smoke near the school.

After a year of study, RCC is considering a ban on all tobacco on its campuses in downtown Medford, White City and Grants Pass.

In January, the community college's board heard the first reading of a draft policy that would bar the use of all lighted or smokeless tobacco products on college property, except in personal vehicles. However, board members wanted to hear more options and asked to see proposals banning only smoking as well as an option to leave designated smoking areas on each campus, RCC spokeswoman Margaret Bradford said.

On Medford's Riverside campus, the smoking area is on the corner of a former parking lot along Eighth Street between Central Avenue and Bartlett Street.

"They should keep this a smoking area," said Heather Pate, a 33-year-old Medford resident who is studying to be a dental assistant. "This is a good spot, away from buildings."

She said smokers shouldn't congregate near doors or windows, but they do deserve a place of their own out of the way to light up.

RCC's current policy requires smokers — both students and employees — to remain at least 20 feet from entrances to buildings and prohibits smoking inside. The policy notes this is in compliance with state law, but the American Lung Association in Oregon's Tobacco-Free College Initiative notes that RCC exceeds the minimum requirements set out in the state's Smokefree Workplace Law.

Pate's friend Kimberly Romero doesn't smoke, but agrees there should be a designated area for those who do. With only 10 minutes between classes, she said, students might surreptitiously sneak a cigarette on campus rather than hike to the perimeter. And they could be tempted to toss butts into the gutters if no proper receptacles are provided.

"This smoking area has ash trays and is prepared for smokers," Romero said.

Several other smokers in the designated area at midmorning Thursday noted that public streets and sidewalks cross the campus and questioned whether the school could regulate those public spaces.

Bradford said enforcement was a question board members had, too, as were differences between the school's open, urban campus in Medford and the contained Redwood campus on the outskirts of Grants Pass and Table Rock campus in White City's industrial area.

An updated policy could be useful in asking people to refrain from smoking, and conduct codes for students and employees could be called on if people routinely violated the policy, she said.

Sharyah Davis, a 21-year-old Medford student who plans to become a teacher, supports a more stringent policy.

"I think it's a great thing," she said.

Davis said she had lost multiple family members in a single year to smoking-related illnesses. A school policy could help people stop, she said.

Another nonsmoker, Taylor Brown of Ashland, said he didn't particularly enjoy walking past clouds of smoke on campus, but didn't consider it a major problem.

"It doesn't really matter to me," he said, of the proposed policy changes.

The board wants to see a variety of viewpoints. The college's Tobacco Policy Task Force has surveyed students, staff and community members in the past year, and the board has launched an online forum for comments on the proposed policy revision.

Results of previous surveys, details about the proposal and the online comment form are available at www.roguecc.edu/TPTF, along with a variety of other related resources.

Comments must be submitted before Feb. 16, when the board plans a second reading of the policy. A third reading is set for March, and, if adopted, any changes would go into effect July 1, officials said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 541-776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

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