By Rick Sobey
LOWELL - Secondhand smoke will soon be a thing of the past at UMass Lowell.
After a year-long, student-driven campaign to clear the air on campus, UMass Lowell said Tuesday it will officially become smoke- and tobacco-free in September.
The new policy, initiated by UMass Lowell's Student Government Association and endorsed by the Faculty Senate and the administration, will designate all campus property as tobacco-free.
In the fall there will be signs across campus letting students know about the tobacco-free campus, as well as smoking-cessation programs provided by Lowell General Hospital. The university's existing tobacco policy prohibits smoking inside or within 25 feet of campus buildings.
"Working to make UMass Lowell a tobacco-free campus over the past year has been a rewarding and meaningful experience," said Amanda Robinson, Student Government Association president and one of the tobacco-free campaign's leaders.
"It has been inspiring to watch countless clubs, organizations and individuals come together for the purpose of creating a healthier living and learning environment on our campus."
Robinson, with students Katie Burnett, Brittany Clark, Student Trustee Phil Geoffroy and Student Government Association President Andrew Ladd started collecting signatures for the "Change is in the Air" campaign during the fall semester.
In October, the Student Government Association passed a resolution supporting the change and began hosting programs, including a rally during the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout in November. A student petition in support of the measure received more than 2,000 signatures and a survey found that the majority of students supported a tobacco-free environment.
The Faculty Senate recently endorsed the initiative by passing a resolution last month. Student leaders have also regularly met with the UMass Lowell administration to provide updates.
"This has been a great example of student civic engagement and a model for how to initiate a culture change on a college campus," said Chancellor Marty Meehan. "I fought big tobacco in Congress because of the insurmountable evidence proving its detrimental impact on our health and our economy.
"I applaud the Student Government Association and other student leaders for a comprehensive, well-executed and successful campaign to change the environment where they live and learn for the better," Meehan added.
Beginning in the fall, UMass Lowell will partner with Lowell General Hospital to offer eight-week Freedom from Smoking programs on campus for students, faculty and staff who wish to quit smoking or smokeless tobacco.
The flagship UMass campus in Amherst went tobacco-free last year. UMass Dartmouth announced Monday the campus will go tobacco-free in June 2015, and said 10 of the state's 29 public colleges are now tobacco-free.
Also, Middlesex Community College implemented a smoke-free environment in November. MCC's new smoke-free policy applies to all students, staff, faculty and visitors to the Bedford and Lowell campuses.
"Several universities have been pursuing these policies, and it's great to see the UMass Lowell students taking this issue head-on," Marc Hymovitz, director of government relations and advocacy for the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network, said during the UMass Lowell student campaign. "They're showing that they don't want to become another tobacco-addicted generation.
"The tobacco industry is looking at students as customers because their longtime customers ultimately die from using their products, but these students will contribute significantly to a reduction in cancers and deaths," Hymovitz added.
The university announcement comes less than two weeks from when anti-tobacco advocate Howard Koh will speak at UMass Lowell's May 17 graduation. Koh, assistant secretary for health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was called one of the most influential people in the fight against tobacco in the last 25 years by the New England Division of the American Cancer Society.