The current health crisis may encourage more colleges and universities in New Jersey to make their campuses smoke and tobacco-free.

Bergen Community College in late May joined a short list of higher-education institutions in the state that prohibit all tobacco products. All but one community college in New Jersey, Atlantic Cape, are at least smoke-free.

"Certainly with the new pandemic and the higher risk that smokers and vapers put themselves in, in regards to the pandemic, I think there's been more focus and interest," said Diane Litterer, CEO of New Jersey Prevention Network.

The virus that causes COVID-19 can be an especially serious threat for individuals who smoke or vape, according to Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It's believed cases of the disease in smokers can be more severe due to other health conditions typically linked with smoking, such as heart disease.

The smoking age in New Jersey is 21. Just a handful of four-year institutions in the Garden State have implemented 100% smoke-free or tobacco-free policies. Most have some type of policy in place, such as smoke-free zones, but no hard prohibition on campus.

"While a new 100% tobacco-free policy was passed in May 2020, education around smoking and tobacco use on campus has just begun," said Ian Wolf, the coordinator of Student Conduct & Student Information at Bergen Community College. "Changing policy is good but continuing to change the campus culture around tobacco is even better."

Litterer said colleges and universities are encouraged to add cessation and intervention programs on campus when implementing policies such as BCC's, or to connect with state-funded Quit Centers throughout the state.

According to NJ Colleges & Universities Implementing Tobacco & Smoke-Free Policies, BCC joins six other schools in New Jersey — Montclair State University, St. Peter's University, Sussex County Community College, Raritan Valley Community College, Camden County College and Brookdale Community College — that have gone both smoke- and tobacco-free.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.