Coalition plans smoking ban for city of Kent

Andrew Hampp

When the Portage County Tobacco Prevention Coalition meets for its annual celebration breakfast Friday, it will have something extra to report in its goals for upcoming projects.

A press conference will be held at 9 a.m. in the Schwebel Garden Room to announce the coalition’s plans for making the Kent State campus and the city of Kent smoke-free. The conference will last about 30 minutes with a question-and-answer session to be held immediately following.

Campaign coordinator Rebecca Wilson said the coalition has been meeting with representatives of Kent City Council, Kent Area Chamber of Commerce and the Kent Licensed Beverage Association since receiving a grant for its tobacco-free project in August.

Wilson said Ward 1 Councilman Garret Ferrara and Ward 2 Councilwoman Carrie Gavriloff were instrumental in assisting the coalition in obtaining the grant, although Ferrara insisted in a separate interview that he was more involved with suggesting the idea of making Kent smoke-free to his fellow council members.

“It seems to be a rather timely issue,” Ferrara said. “I brought it up (to the council) more as an idea, like, ‘Let’s at least discuss this and see if this is what people want. Let’s see if this is something in the interest of the general public.'”

Aaron Bohannon, coordinator for the Portage County Tobacco Prevention Coalition, said if new legislation is approved for the city of Kent, he expects it to be more gradual than that of other communities.

“We’ve been talking with various groups around town just to let them know we want to be transparent (with our intentions),” he said. “We understand with our neighbors next door in Summit County that (their transition to smoke-free) went so quickly and anecdotally. Even if (Kent residents and officials) are supportive, we don’t want them to be surprised.”

Wilson said more than 75 residents, county officials and students will be in attendance at Friday’s event.

Among those 75 will be Amy Thompson, assistant professor in the College and Graduate School of Education, Health and Human Services, who has been conducting focus groups with students in her graduate health education course since January. Thompson and her students polled students and Kent residents on their perceptions of smoking on- and off-campus and received unexpected results.

“I was really surprised by the percentages of the statistics,” she said. “They had thought 60 to 70 percent of people on campus smoked, when really only 30 percent smoked on campus and 22.9 percent in the general community.”

Thompson added she wasn’t surprised to discover that most students were supportive of environmental tobacco policies as well.

Heather Hopkins, freshman health and human services major and Kent State grass roots coordinator for the Clean Indoor Air campaign, assisted Thompson in the focus groups, and said she’s hoping the smoke-free movement is led primarily by students.

“If Kent State does go smoke-free, Kent will be the first big college town in Ohio to do so,” she said. “They don’t consider Columbus to be a big college town because even without Ohio State, Columbus would still be Columbus.”

Contact public affairs reporter Andrew Hampp at [email protected].