Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Campus chugging toward January smoking ban

The University of Denver will become one of the first major universities in Colorado to be smoke free under a new policy that goes into effect Jan. 1, 2010.

Effective New Year’s Day, smoking will be prohibited everywhere on campus and on University owned or operated buildings or grounds.

Exceptions include city-owned streets and sidewalks that surround or cut through University property plus two areas near the Ritchie and Newman centers.

The policy applies to all smoke products, not just cigarettes, cigars and pipes.

“A policy like this really makes it clear that DU is committed to the health of our community,” says Katie Dunker, assistant director of health promotion at the Health and Counseling Center, who spearheaded the policy over the past two years. “We understand this is going to be a big change for people.”

Dunker emphasized that the new policy — approved by the Board of Trustees — was driven by health concerns.

“The primary goal is to reduce involuntary exposure to second-hand smoke on campus,” Dunker says. “A byproduct is if more people look into quitting, think about quitting or are encouraged to quit.”

University officials say the campus community will be asked to conform to the new policy just as any other, but they emphasize the smoking ban is not an administrative cudgel. Fines and tickets will not be issued. Rather, DU will trust smokers to respect the policy and the campus community to be sensitive to smokers.

“We’re not telling people to quit,” Dunker says. “We’re just saying that when they’re on campus they’re not going to be able to use (smoking products). We don’t want confrontation. We’re in the business of supporting students. If we can eliminate triggers on campus: the smell, the visuals, it will support those people who are trying to quit.”
Not all smokers see it that way.

A group of about eight law students gathered outside the Ricketson Law Building objected to the smoking ban but declined to say publicly for fear of recrimination. A law school faculty member also declined to be identified, saying he was a “closet smoker.” He supports the smoking ban.

One business student says he plans to walk off campus when he smokes and is unhappy about the time it will take from his studies. He questions why standing at a distance from other people was not permitted.

“A lot of people are cognizant that not everyone likes the smell of cigarettes,” says senior finance major Bryan Baca, who works full time while completing his degree. Baca also says he believes there was too little “community discussion” prior to the policy’s announcement.

Dunker says quite a few smokers were contacted, the issue was debated at the All-Undergraduate Student Association Senate and a smoking task force studied the issue over several years. She says allowing outdoor smoking away from others or in designated areas resulted in a policy impossible to explain or enforce and tended to stigmatize smokers.

In addition to banning smoking, the new policy prohibits sponsorship of groups or events that promote tobacco use, bans tobacco product advertisements, and outlaws distribution, sale or sampling of tobacco products or merchandise.

The designated smoking area at the Ritchie Center will vary by event, officials say, so smokers should check with ushers or staff before going outside to light up. At the Newman Center, the smoking area will be off York Street south of the loading dock and north of Knudson Hall, says Steve Seifert, executive director of the Newman Center.

Nationwide, there are about 365 smoke- or tobacco-free schools and universities, Dunker says, including the University of Colorado Hospital Anschutz Medical Campus, Colorado Christian University, Denver School of Nursing and the Summit County campus of Colorado Mountain College in Colorado.

“I know there are students who are frustrated, faculty and staff who are frustrated, but I really hope people will see the benefit over the long term,” Dunker says. “DU is on the leading edge of things.”

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