Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Campus to be smoke free under new policy

An effort to simplify and extend the University policy on smoking will go into effect Jan. 1, 2010, making DU one of a handful of smoke-free campuses in Colorado.

The new policy was outlined May 28 in a letter to the campus community from Chancellor Robert Coombe. The decision comes on the heels of nearly two years of surveys, letters, petitions, research and debate on smoking policy that considered everything from smoking areas marked by yellow umbrellas to a total ban on all tobacco products.

After reviewing the evidence, the chancellor decided.

“A complete ban on the use or possession of legal tobacco products among the DU community is not reasonable,” Coombe said in his letter to the DU community. “[DU] does not regulate legal personal choice unless such choice has a deleterious effect on the community as a whole… At DU, personal choice is a part of personal growth.”

The chancellor’s new policy will prohibit smoking in all locations on campus except for an area 25 feet from public perimeter rights-of-way. Also exempted from the ban are two yet-to-be designated smoking areas outside the Ritchie Center and the Newman Center that will be available to smokers during public events. University officials said the new standard also will apply to off-campus university-owned buildings.

“It’s a public health issue,” says Dr. Sam Alexander, director of the Health and Counseling Center, who spearheaded a DU Tobacco Task Force that examined the issue. “Our main concern was the effect of secondhand smoke on the health of people who choose not to smoke.

“I’m very happy with the policy.”

Nationally, there are about 150 institutions that are smoke free or tobacco free, Alexander said. In Colorado, the Denver School of Nursing and Colorado Christian University are tobacco free, with Colorado Mountain College’s Summit campus to join them this summer and the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora in October. On Aug. 1, Northeastern Junior College, a two-year residential program 125 miles northeast of Denver, will be the first public higher education center in Colorado to go smoke free.

Kylie Swanson, a freshman majoring in vocal performance at the Lamont School of Music, is pleased by the new policy.

“It’s really irritating always smelling smoke every time you walk out of a door,” she says. “It’ll make it a little more inconvenient [to smoke], but right now, it’s inconvenient for everybody else to breathe it in all the time.”

But not everyone is as supportive. Jaynie Kuberry (JD ’06), who is back on campus for a bar preparation class, called the new policy unfair.

“There are a lot of people who smoke in law school, and to have to walk off campus will be very difficult,” Kuberry says. “It’s extremely stressful to be in law school, and you shouldn’t ban smoking when a lot of people [are stressed].”

According to a survey conducted by the DU Tobacco Task Force, 62 percent of students, 73 percent of staff and 61 percent of faculty support a smoke-free campus. The survey indicated that 4 percent of students smoke regularly on campus, another 4 percent smoke socially on and off campus, and 8 percent smoke socially off campus.

It’s the off-campus smoking that raises concerns among nearby residents.

“I’m concerned that smokers will be driven off campus into the neighborhood,” says Katie Fisher, who lives near the intersection of High Street and Asbury Avenue. Fisher says she and her neighbors already have to contend with bar patrons who smoke on the sidewalk at night, and she’s concerned that the numbers will escalate under the new policy.

DU officials say signs will be installed throughout campus explaining the new policy, and that smokers will be encouraged to be considerate to neighbors when congregating at the University’s edge.

But Fisher is skeptical and says she plans to raise the issue with her neighborhood association and to speak further with DU officials.

Also unclear about the policy is Eric Whelan, a junior trumpet performance major at Lamont. Whelan, who describes himself as an occasional smoker, wonders why behavior that occurs outside needs heightened regulation.

“I can see the health benefits of it, but I don’t really see the point,” Whelan says. “I think people are careful enough about smoking that they’re not blowing it in people’s faces.”

Melody Vanderstoep, a junior trumpet performance major who doesn’t smoke, believes smokers need places for themselves.

“They need somewhere to smoke,” she says. “It’s nice for me that I don’t have to smell it, but at the same time I can avoid them.”

According to research compiled by the Tobacco Task Force, the danger for nonsmokers is in the carcinogens in secondhand smoke, which can cause lung cancer, heart disease and asthma in nonsmokers and pose a danger even in “occasional exposure.”

“Data suggest that second-hand smoke can have adverse health effects within a distance of 25 feet,” the chancellor’s letter said.

Questions or concerns about the new policy can be directed by e-mail to or to Vice Chancellor Craig Woody at 303-871-3588.

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