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FARMINGTON — The San Juan College staff has been working the last two years toward implementing new tobacco policies to make all of its campuses tobacco/smoke free by 2020.

The college has been working on the "Tobacco Free SJC" campaign since a New Mexico Senate Memorial was approved in April 2013, asking higher education institutions to pursue policies to make college campuses a tobacco-free environment.

Dave Eppich, vice president for student services, said the college has altered its tobacco policy, which formerly permitted smoking and tobacco use on campus 50 feet from building entrances. The current policy has limited tobacco use to seven designated areas on the main campus and one on its 30th Street campus.

The current plan calls for the seven areas to be eliminated as the year 2020 approaches, with locations being removed each year.

The policy approved by College Board members in November 2014 includes all tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco, and all forms of e-cigarettes/vaporizers.

Eppich said the college formed a task force on campus to address how it would implement the recommendations of the "strong advice" listed in the Senate Memorial.

The task force included students and staff members from the nursing health sciences program, the physical plant and others discussing how to implement a tobacco-free policy and the health benefits from the changes.

"We're trying to pick up the best practices from across the country through all of that research and understanding," Eppich said. "One of the primary reasons you do it is for the health and the wellness of all the people on campus."

Eppich said there have been complaints and concerns raised by employees who walk into a haze of second-hand smoke exiting or entering a building.

"The 50-foot-from-the-building (rule) was very hard to effect, and the enforcement of it was problematic," Eppich said.

From talking with staff members in the grounds department, Eppich said the cleanup of cigarette and tobacco waste on the campus grounds has been problematic in several areas.

Eppich said the college will finalize its plans in the next two to three months on how to handle violations of the policy. That could include written warnings and/or fines, he said.

Janet Hebbe, the colleges interim human resources director, said the college offers programs that provide assistance in quitting smoking as part of its agreement with health care provider Presbyterian Medical Services.

"As far as educating employees, we need to educate them on their options," Hebbe said.

The college will re-evaluate the progress of the program on an annual basis and could possibly accelerate removal of the designated tobacco use areas.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.

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