Thursday, December 10, 2009
With record enrollments, my college has cigarette butts all over the grounds. There's a strong no-smoking policy inside the buildings, and so far, that hasn't really been an issue. Even the bathrooms have been remarkably smoke-free. The outdoors is another story. Smokers are supposed to stand x number of feet away from entrances, but in practice, they seem to interpret that part of the policy as advisory. That can mean that those of us who don't smoke (hi!) get to fight our way through a cloud of carcinogens to enter a building.
I'll admit that times have changed. Back in the 70's, when I was in elementary school, the public high school in my town had a smokers' lounge that was open to students. By the time I reached high school, that was gone. At SLAC, smoking was relatively rare; I think the class connotations were too powerful. (Back then, a common slur directed at community colleges was that they were "high school with ashtrays.") At Flagship State, it was common to see people smoke outside, but I don't remember it getting terribly out of control. The same held at Proprietary U, where smokers routinely went outside, but I don't recall any major issues either way.
Now, though, the non-smokers are getting a little testier, and the smokers somewhat less careful about cleaning up after themselves. I'm not sure which came first, but I've seen the two sides dig in their heels a bit over the last few years. (I recently heard "liberal" defined as "someone who wants to ban smoking and legalize pot." Not exactly right, but recognizable...)
One of the proposals floating around is a total ban on smoking on the entire campus. I can see the appeal, and if I thought it would work, I'd probably support it. But I can't imagine it really working. It's one thing to ask a smoker to step outside; it's quite another to ask her to just hang tight for the next several hours. I'd be concerned that someone in need of a nicotine fix would just go wherever was the most convenient.
(Full disclosure: I had a girlfriend in grad school who smoked off and on. During her attempts to quit, she morphed into She-Ra the Avenger. "I'm making some coffee. Would you like some?" "I'LL RIP YOUR HEART OUT AND SHOW IT TO YOU BEFORE YOU DIE!" "So, was that a yes or a no?" Ever since, I've had a healthy respect for nicotine fits.)
A few enterprising sorts have proposed setting aside designated smoking areas with little roofs, like bus stops. That one doesn't really sit right with me, either. It's one thing to look the other way while you spew that crap into the air, but now I'm supposed to subsidize it? I don't think so. Besides, in these parts, the winter months tend to get a bit nippy. Even if the smokers were good sports in September, I don't see them sticking to the plan in February.
It's fine to support smoking cessation programs for both employees and students, but by definition, those only reach the folks who are inclined to quit anyway. The problem is the conflict between the folks who just have to puff away on a regular basis, and those of us who'd rather not breathe carcinogenic air or step on the butts.
Wise and worldly readers, I'm hoping someone has seen this done right. Have you seen it?
At my university, it seems like facilities is vacuuming butts every week outside our building, because there are no ashtrays. I've heard that there used to be ashtrays, but now all the entrances seem to be "designated no smoking entrances". You can't designate all entrances as no-smoking entrances and think that'll work.
I believe that in Quebec, the law now says that you can't smoke within 9 meters of public buildings. Some places now paint lines on the ground to identify the 9m radius. This has the advantage that you can be seen to be within 9m, and thus there's some social pressure to stay outside 9m. Also, if everyone stays at 9m, that will disperse smokers so that there won't be quite as much of a concentrated cloud of carcinogens.
I like the idea of painted lines though (like plam said above).
So, the first problem is that the policy needs to be clarified.
Second, you can't expect people to follow a policy if it's not enforced. It needs to be monitored and sanctioned. I guarantee that a week's worth of ticketing (with incremential fines) would help move people away from the doors and out in the open air.
You can ticket the punks who drop their butts all over too. We have four ashtrays in front of our building and people still flick those things out into the landscaping.
Now, I enjoy a smoke now and then, but I always go the 30 feet (from the building, not the door). I also put my butts in the ashtrays or stomp them out really good and put them in the trash.
Smoking huts were erected (lit, but I believe unheated - didn't check) with ashtrays next to each. Most smokers moved to the huts.
Within the past month we've moved to a non-smoking stance: you make smoke in your car with the windows closed, but not otherwise while on school property.
I'll mention that we're a State-wide CC. I believe that the smoking huts were a local initiative, and that the new policy is mandated at the State level. Officially, all employees are responsible for intervening in any violations seen, including escalating to contacting campus security. I have no idea how this new policy will turn out now that the weather has taken a sharp turn for the unpleasant.
At the 4-year, there's a lot more of a war going on between smokers and non-smokers. I see a lot of arguments and rudeness, and while I know my own experience isn't scientifically reliable, I do see most of this nastiness started by the non-smokers.
I'm not sure I know the answer to how to address this issue, although as a former smoker, I'd like to see those little weather-shelters-cum-bus-stops. My interest is in encouraging non-smokers/administration/workers to treat smokers with respect. Smoking is an addiction, and a deadly one, and I have never met a smoker who didn't know it. I am appalled at the shrill, self-righteous, nasty ways I hear non-smokers engage with smokers, and I do not believe for one second it makes anyone more likely to respect a non-smoking policy.
My ambi-unit-ability tells me that 30 feet is more than 9 meters, so the Quebecois are almost 6 inches more liberal than that American college ... depending on how you feel about significant figures.
Can you tell that I am done grading final exams?
On a more serious note, talk to your allied health folks. Ours have their own rule about smoking on campus to foster professional behavior. So you see kids in their college scrubs hiding behind our building (hence out of sight of the nursing school) or on a sidewalk a LONG way away.
But, no, I have not seen a solution. Almost all of the smokers are students so enforcement would drive away paying customers. However, I haven't see anyone try a smoking pavilion. There is the matter of cost (stimulus funds?), but put in a few picnic tables and plant some bushes to screen it from prevailing winds in winter and it couldn't hurt, provided you pay attention to location, location, and location.
Most of my students now go smoke in their cars. When it's very cold, they tend to hover around the doorways during the mid-3-hour-class break, but that's not so bad because it's very cold so it doesn't smell so bad (and nobody's coming and going at that time). The school has a "last chance" ashtray by the main entrance, so most of the butts from the doorway lingerers end up in there.
However, since they have departed to smoke in their cars, I have noticed an increase in the number of students who come back from break smelling of pot. I guess smoking in private makes them more likely to partake of the herbal cigarettes. One kid came back from break so stoned last week I almost threw him out, except that I didn't want to have to bicker about it later if he protested that he was "just tired" or something.
When they ask for a smoke break (if I'm running into the break time), I remind them they aren't allowed to smoke on campus. And they laugh. And I say, "I know, but I'm supposed to remind you." Everybody's happy.
We're also a commuter campus. So the sidewalks adjoining the campus belong to the city, not to us. So students/staff/faculty who still smoke simply remove themselves to the sidewalks. It's generally far enough from the buildings that one doesn't have to fight through the clouds to get into the buildings, and once on campus, ome need not cross the smoking line.
But it looks weird to me, when I drive into campus in the morning (as I just did, with a temperature of 12 F), to see a line of people out on the sidewlaks, puffing...
At the state university that I now attend, smoking is allowed all over the campus, outside, but not within 50 feet of any window, door, or vent. However, all the ash trays are right next to the doors, and so the smokers just smoke next to the doors, anyway. However, there seems to be quite a bit of consensus that both the nonsmokers and the smokers would be happy with designated smoking areas that are completely enclosed with small little vent holes, like little gazebos, or something. To be honest, it doesn't even have to be completely enclosed, just with enough of a roof to keep the rain away. It has been the experience of most, smokers and non-smokers alike, that a smoker who feels he/she needs a cigarette break is going to smoke in any weather if they are forced to smoke outside anyway. I speak, of course, as a non-smoker with two smoking roommates.
In fall term '08 it was announced that my cc campus would be smoke free the following fall term. In the year between smokers were only allowed to smoke in designated smoking areas (unfortunately I never saw that enforced) and support was provided to help smokers quit.
Now the cc is officially smoke free. There are even signs on campus saying "Welcome to our smoke free campus." This doesn't stop the smokers, though. Mostly they just go to out of the way places to smoke on campus.
And, the no smoking rule isn't being enforced.
What's the point of a rule if it isn't enforced?
At my CC, the percentage of students who drive is tiny (<5%) due to absolutely no parking, so the 'smoke in your car' rule would be idiotic. I think that only works when the vast majority of smokers drive.
When my CC had a 50-feet rule, it was followed except when it rained (in which case the smokers clustered in a little enclave about 30 feet from the door). But once they tried to ban smoking all around the CC and adjoining blocks, smokers basically said "F--- you" and now smoke wherever they please.
As far as enforcement goes, make sure that the people supposed to enforce the smoking rules aren't smokers themselves. Of the three school cops, two are smokers and they side with the smoking students 100%. Their line seems to be, "I'm supposed to give you a ticket, but that's $200. How bout you let me bum a smoke instead?"
Honestly, I think things were better - for smokers and non-smokers alike - when there were smoking lounges in colleges.
Our local university campus is going tobacco-free...which means that there are a lot of smokers huddling just outside of the gates through the campus's iron fence. Most of these are vehicular rather than pedestrian entrances, so exposure to second-hand smoke is minimal. Butt policing is minimal, too. The Chancellor has chosen to define campus as the ground within the fence--so far--but has made noises about reclaiming the land without the fences next year.
So, who's happy with this? Not the non-smokers, not the smokers and not the grounds crews. But their unhappiness seems to be evenly distributed, so this may be the "possible" compromise for the time being. Some support has been voiced for shelters for smokers, but to install these would require changing university policy yet again and maybe forcing the administration eat a few of its earlier pronouncements.
My CC has the gazebos for smokers. Two or three on a campus for 4,000 students.
The students are not supposed to smoke within 15 feet of the doors. But they stand under the overhangs, and just away from the door, so the smoke envelops you as you walk in.
Starting January 1 it will be a smoke free campus and there are no sidewalks anywhere near that aren't on campus. Will they be smoking in the streets?
I would provide hefty incentives to folks who want to quit smoking, recognizing that those who successfully quit need multiple attempts to make this happen. Quitting nicotine isn't like throwing a switch....one literally has to re-wire the human brain. That's going to take time, multiple forms of support, and patience.
But I suspect those incentives are far cheaper in the long run than all the deaths from primary and second-hand smoke.
My campus has made it smoke free. One is not allowed to smoke in one's personal vehicle on campus, and the institution will do random blood tests and supposedly fire the smokers. Of course, they got a waiver for the Italian research star with $9 million in NIH RO1s.
Which sucks, if you ask me. Frankly, as long as smokers are outside, suck it up, buttercup. There are worse things in the lab that will kill you. People get all het up about smoking, yet will handle radionucleotides and hepatitis laden blood with nonchalance.