Justin LaMachia trekked across the cold, rainy University of Minnesota campus Friday clutching a cigarette. He’s a smoker — has been for six years. But he wouldn’t mind if the campus banned his puffs between classes, he said.
Soon, they might.
“In some ways, that could be a good initiative,” said LaMachia, a sophomore studying architecture. “If I can’t smoke in school, if I can’t smoke here, here or here, I might as well just give it up.”
After years of debate, the U’s Twin Cities campus is poised to ban smoking — inside and out. It’s a bold move for a huge campus. But the university is clearly behind the trend. In 2006, about 30 colleges and universities boasted smoke-free campuses. Now, more than 1,100 do, including dozens in Minnesota and three of the U’s other campuses.
“A tobacco-free campus has become an expectation … rather than an innovation,” U President Eric Kaler said Thursday, after the University Senate, made up of faculty, students and staff, voted in favor of a smoking ban. “It’s about time for us.”
About 67 percent of faculty and staff and 64 percent of students support a campuswide ban on tobacco, according to a December 2012 survey by the U’s Boynton Health Service. A quarter of students who smoke said they’d support such a policy. A smaller fraction of faculty and staff who smoke said they’d back a ban.
What would be banned?
Kaler would enact the ban, which he announced last week he intends to do. The new rule could begin in fall 2014. Schools often take a year or more to phase in a smoking ban — educating newbies, posting signs and promoting smoking-cessation programs.
“You’re setting yourself up for failure if you move too quickly,” said Ferd Schlapper, director of the U’s Boynton Health Service.
In the meantime, officials will hammer out the details. Should the ban include chewing tobacco? Should it cover all of campus — or exempt public thoroughfares, such as University Avenue?
“I would make the case as we go forward that exceptions are not effective,” Schlapper said. “It’s like having a ‘no peeing’ section in the swimming pool.”
Banning smoking in parking lots, sidewalks and everywhere else can cause unintended consequences. Some have predicted that a ban would push smokers into their cars, the streets and neighbors’ yards. At Ohio State University, which is expected to go smoke-free later this year, the student body president worried that enforcing the tobacco ban could pull public safety officers away from more important duties, according to the Lantern student newspaper.
Most campuses rely on self- or peer-enforcement. Rather than stationing cops at campus borders, leaders hope students and staff remind one another of the rules.
Mankato sees results
The fall after Minnesota State University, Mankato became smoke-free in 2012, teams patrolled campus, reminding smokers of the ban and offering them mints and cards promoting quit-smoking programs.
“If you walk up and say, ‘Hey, would you mind putting that out?’ the vast majority of people are very polite,” said Rick Straka, Mankato’s vice president for finance and administration.
While “the ban is far from being perfectly enforced or followed,” Straka said, fewer butts litter campus and the number of complaints about having to wade through smoke is way down. “It’s a cultural change.”
Student and faculty groups at the University of Minnesota have lined up in support of a ban. The Minnesota Student Association gave its thumbs-up in November. This week, the student representatives to the Board of Regents will offer their endorsement in a report to the board.
That report notes that eight out of 10 university students surveyed in December 2010 reported being exposed to secondhand smoke on campus, a Boynton survey found.
“It’s not just an annoyance,” Schlapper said. “When you smell it, you’ve just ingested a Class-A carcinogen.”
Senior Alatheia Yantz sees both sides. Walking on campus sidewalks, Yantz has regularly gotten stuck behind a smoker.
“Especially on some of those hot summer days, you can’t escape it sometimes,” she said. Yantz is sensitive to smoke and likes the idea of a ban for health reasons. But her roommate smokes, so she’s reluctant to infringe on her and other students’ rights.
Forcing smokers to leave campus to light up “would be a huge inconvenience, especially with the weather being as it is,” she said. “It’s kind of a conundrum.”