All Maricopa County Community College District properties will be smoke- and tobacco-free beginning July 1, 2012, the organization announced this week.

The community college district, which is one of the largest systems in the country and comprises 10 colleges throughout the county, will join a select number of about 500 similar institutions that are tobacco-free, said Tom Gariepy, MCCCD spokesman.

"As an educational institution, we have an obligation to lead the way in matters of health awareness and education," said Chancellor Rufus Glasper in a press release. "When this policy goes into effect, our district and its 10 colleges will join hundreds of other college and universities across the country in what is a growing trend."

By announcing the policy change in advance, the District hopes to give students plenty of time to prepare for the change.

That includes a number of yet-to-be announced programs through the school, Gariepy said.

The district plans to reveal these programs on Nov. 17 to coincide with the Great American Smokeout, a day dedicated to helping Americans quit the habit.

However, many students are not happy with the new announcement.

One of the most prominent arguments is that not only were the students not consulted, but Mesa Community College's student body had decided against any type of smoking ban last year.

"The chancellor made the decision," said Heather Smith, a tongue cancer survivor, resent smoker and a senator in MCC's student government. "We weren't even consulted."

However, the district said it hosted a number of student forums that were held as early as three to four years ago.

"We did forums at four campuses, including MCC, (Gateway Community College) and (Phoenix College) and took student opinions into account in creating this initiative," Gariepy said.

In May 2010, the MCC student government passed a resolution (23 to 2) opposing a smoke-free policy on campus.

Smith said the student government plans to put together petitions and surveys of student opinion to present to the district. However, she doubts the petitions will have much of an impact.

"Why aren't they concerned about other health issues, like food options or encouraging exercise?" Smith said.

However, the district said it has focused on all three areas of health.

"For example, we offer fitness program at all colleges or partnerships with outside organizations," Gariepy said. "There are some healthy food choices offered in our campus food facilities. In addition, smoking is a somewhat different and more intrusive issue because of the matter of second-hand smoke.

Smoking affects others, while not exercising and not eating healthy don't, Gariepy said.

Some student smokers believe the current smoking restrictions are sufficient. Currently, each campus has designated smoking areas throughout the campus.

"Over the years, it seems like most smokers don't mind secluding themselves," said Benjiman Smith (no relation to Heather), a 20-year smoker.

However, enforcement of even the current smoking restrictions are hit-or-miss, Smith said. Sometimes people get caught and cited, other times they don't.

How the school will enforce the non-smoking policy will be announced Nov. 17, Gariepy said.

"There are still people who won't change," said Ernesto Garcia, 19, a MCC student who used to smoke. "It's like an addiction - it doesn't just go away."

One such student is Lee Mann, 20, who has smoked for "a long time."

"I'm probably not going to quit smoking," Lee said. "I'll find a place off campus."

People who wish to smoke after the ban begins will have to leave district-owned property and most likely will go to the public sidewalk, Gariepy said.

But for those who do want to quit, having resources available to students, faculty and staff is "amazing," Garcia said. Because quitting cold turkey doesn't work, he insists. Instead, when Garcia quit smoking, he relied on friends for support and coping mechanisms like chewing gum and sucking on lollipops.

"It's an outstanding community service for those who want it," said Benjiman Smith. "But I'm not interested in quitting."

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