“Thirty years ago when I was a student here, I could smoke in the library,” said Miller, now the dean of the Hull College of Business at what is now Georgia Regents University. He quit smoking almost four years ago after many attempts, and now so has the Summerville campus around him.
The campus went tobacco-free at the beginning of this month, but to reinforce that message and provide more education the university is holding a series of community forums, beginning with Miller and his story Thursday. Tobacco-free means that smokeless tobacco use and electronic cigarettes are also banned, said Christine O’Meara, the director of cancer information and awareness at the GRU Cancer Center, who leads the community education and outreach work group to help implement the ban. The Health Sciences campus of GRU was already tobacco-free.
The group held one community forum in March and is planning others “to educate not only the college campus but Augusta at large about the health and social consequences of tobacco use,” O’Meara said.
The Augusta Commission voted down a tougher smoking ordinance last year, but Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson has said he plans to reintroduce one later this year. That would help tremendously, O’Meara said.
“It’s really raising the level of consciousness about a healthy work environment and everybody’s right to breathe tobacco-free air,” she said.
Miller, who smoked for at least 25 years, said that he would quit every time he crushed out a cigarette and then take the habit back up the next time he lit up. He grew tired of the constant coughing, though, and “couldn’t walk 18 holes of golf without it just killing me.”
Finally, he said, “I just knew it was now or never.”
It seemed right to Miller that the institution should ban tobacco use.
“I think we’re a state-funded institution, and part of our mission is to educate the body, mind and spirit of an individual,” he said. “I think that it is appropriate for us to say smoking is a public health problem and it is not good for you.”
So far, Miller said, he has been pleasantly surprised to see no one violating the policy as he walks around campus. There is no fine, and enforcement will be “community enforcement,” O’Meara said, “meaning that it is up to each of us to help enforce the policy of a tobacco-free campus.”