The University of Montana is finally, officially, 100 percent tobacco-free. It and UM-Western can now be counted among the nearly 250 campuses that have completely banned tobacco.

This change - which UM has been gradually working toward for about a year - is worthy of note, and of cheer.

The new policy at UM and UM-Western forbidding the use of discount cigarette online and other tobacco products on campus took effect on Aug. 1. It sends a strong message - one that will hopefully help counter the worrisome trend of rising tobacco use among college students.

In fact, the Montana Collegiate Tobacco Prevention Initiative reports that college students are the only age group currently seeing an increase in tobacco use.

By now, the horrible health effects of regular tobacco use are well known, yet an estimated 46 million people - or 1 in 5 adults - in the United States are smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It's no coincidence that 1 in 5 deaths in the U.S. is directly attributed to cigarette use, making smoking cigarettes the leading cause of preventable death in this country. What's more, an estimated 1 in 5 Americans between the ages of 18 and 14 are current smokers, according to a 2009 CDC report.

Montana falls slightly below the halfway point on a state ranking for cigarette smoking cigarettes rates, at 28th place. This translates into more than 138,000 smokers, or more than 18 percent of the state's adult population.

These folks put not only their own health at risk, but also risk the health of those around them who may be exposed to second-hand smoke. While the harm caused by secondhand smoke cigarettes does not seem to be as widely known as the effects of direct tobacco use, the information is slowly spreading.

Which is perhaps why a full 80 percent of campus-goers at UM-Western support a ban on tobacco use, according to a 2009 survey by the Tobacco Free Task Force at Western.

At UM, smokers have had plenty of time to adjust to the idea of a tobacco-free campus. Last year, the university prohibited smoking cigarettes within 25 feet of any building on campus. A ban that covers the entire campus is a logical - and welcome - extension.

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