I still remember my excitement from a year ago when I learned that UR was becoming a non-smoking campus. “Finally,” I thought to myself, “I won’t have to deal with that annoying second-hand smoke.”
I’ve been let down.
Over the past year, I can recall having to call Public Safety close to a dozen times to report people smoking where they shouldn’t. Some of these cases I know to have involved individuals unaffiliated with the University, but in others I’m not sure.
Toward the end of spring semester and over the past couple weeks, I’ve tried to pay attention to how UR tells people to not smoke. What I discovered was shocking.
Beyond the standard signs on buildings, especially dorms, pointing out that smoking near the building is not allowed, I cannot recall seeing any signs advising people not to smoke. The only other signs I have seen are those for the designated smoking areas.
But the smoking areas are a problem themselves. While I suspect there may be a few others, the only two that I am aware of are next to the iZone (formerly ITS) and between Wilson Commons and Douglass.
The main issue is with their placement. I regularly walk across the bridge between the Eastman Quad and the fourth floor of Wilson Commons. I remember only a handful of instances in which I haven’t been exposed to secondhand smoke while walking across that bridge.
You might wonder why I wouldn’t just take the tunnels. I personally love the outdoors, even if it’s in the single-digits outside, so I always attempt to walk outside. The fresh air feels rejuvenating, and spending even a few extra minutes outside each day, even if it’s just walking to and from class, has been good for my mental health.
Unfortunately, it’s not good for my physical health. With such a low number of smoking areas on campus, and so many people who do smoke, it’s nearly impossible for me to walk near a smoking area without inhaling the nasty smell of cigarettes.
I believe UR made a mistake in placing these smoking shelters. The one near Douglass is situated directly under the bridge I frequently walk across, and unless it’s a windy day, the cigarette fumes waft up into the faces of those of us walking across the bridge. On some days, there is so much secondhand smoke that you can smell it even by the second set of doors on the fourth floor of WilCo.
The one by iZone isn’t much better. Last year when I would walk to class in Meliora Hall, I would pass by the smoking area. Because of the air currents in that location, I frequently got secondhand smoke somewhere in the stretch from the ATM behind Rush Rhees all the way to the doors of Meliora Hall.
Of course, tobacco is an addictive substance, so I can’t expect UR to do away with these designated areas.
However, I do believe that it would be in the best interest of the University community and its visitors as a whole for UR to try and find locations that aren’t near frequently-used routes.
The problem of secondhand smoke, and smoking in general, isn’t just limited to the general areas where people are allowed to smoke.
Just the other day, I walked into the stairwell in my dorm and discovered that people had been smoking in it. I’ve also seen students smoking around dorms. This includes e-cigarettes, which are subject to the same policies as other smoking apparatuses.
Elsewhere on campus, I’ve seen people smoking while walking on campus pathways, in the bathrooms, and around clearly-posted signs at Strong Hospital that say “no smoking.”
I’ve even seen construction workers smoking at work sites. Legal implications of this aside, people smoking around dorms and UR’s construction sites reverts UR to before it had a non-smoking campus.
The issue with this is that there’s no way for anyone to know that UR is a non-smoking campus. There aren’t any conspicuously posted signs, and nobody seems to be enforcing the policy.
In several cases where I’ve called Public Safety, I’ve been told that an officer would be dispatched. And yet, while I appreciate and respect Public Safety for all that it does, it’s difficult to have faith in its enforcement of the University’s smoking policy when the same call gets made over and over again.
It’s no different when interacting with residential staff. Even when I alert RAs that there are people who are regular smokers in and around my hall, it never ends up being taken care of. At this point, I doubt that an individual smoking in the dorms who sets off the fire alarm would ever be held accountable.
Of course, I don’t desire for people to get in serious trouble for violating the smoking policy, at least not the first time they’re caught. With the poor signage around campus, and people who likely didn’t read the emails notifying everyone about the policy change, I’m sure a lot of the violators are unaware. But that doesn’t change the fact that once they’ve been informed, smokers on campus should never be in violation.
Even then that means that they’ll all be in the designated smoking areas, puffing out clouds of carcinogens for everyone else to breathe in.
Over 5,000 undergraduate students alone attend UR. When you consider all the grad students, staff, and faculty, as well as all the alumni, families, and other visitors that come to campus each year, you have well over 10,000 people who may be exposed to some level of second-hand smoke each year.
I wish I could say that the new smoking policy helps me breathe more easily. But it doesn’t.
I’ll be holding my breath till changes are made.