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Colleges and universities are uniformly finding that tobacco prohibitions serve to benefit productivity and protect the health of those who patronize their grounds.

The university system in the state of Georgia announced that its 31 separate campuses will join a growing number of colleges across the country that have completely banned tobacco use, indoors and out. Of the more than 1,800 schools that have adopted similar policies, only two are in Utah.

It’s time for that to change.

Institutions of higher learning are uniformly finding that tobacco prohibitions serve to benefit productivity and protect the health of those who patronize their grounds. Few have found serious opposition to the prohibitions, and there is no persuasive reason why schools in Utah shouldn’t follow suit.

Currently, only Brigham Young University and Dixie State University have enacted total prohibition policies. Utah State University said earlier this year it would look into doing the same. USU and the other state-run campuses comply with the Utah Clean Indoor Clean Air Act, which prohibits smoking inside all buildings and within 25 feet of building entrances or windows.

Anti-tobacco advocates say there are strong reasons why college campuses should be a focus of more aggressive non-smoking efforts. Research indicates that a lot of smokers take up the habit in college. The lobby group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights says risk factors for tobacco use peak at ages 18-25, and “college attendance could be a turning point in choosing not to use tobacco.”

Tobacco use is trending downward as longtime smokers give up the habit. But data compiled by ANR shows that the number of people who initiated smoking after age 18 increased from 600,000 in 2002 to 1 million in 2010. More than 20 million Americans attend class or work on higher-education campuses, and those who run those institutions should do whatever is in their power to discourage the use of tobacco. That means not designating certain areas where ashtrays are available and smoking is either permitted or not officially discouraged.

Anti-smoking laws have met with opposition from those who regard the practice as a personal choice that government should refrain from regulating outside the sphere of public health. As more evidence has surfaced regarding the ill effects of secondhand smoke, tobacco users have had to comply with laws that have virtually eliminated indoor smoking in all public places.

In Georgia, university officials addressed the personal choice question this way: “It goes back to health and productivity,” said Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Marion Fedrick. “We’re not at all saying they can’t smoke. They just can’t smoke on our campuses.”

It’s a statement that campus leaders here should echo. The number of schools enacting total tobacco bans has doubled in just the last three years. It is time for all Utah colleges and universities to add their names to the list.