Yesterday, on a dreary and windy afternoon, a cluster of smokers
huddled outside the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library.
It’s a common sight now across campus – groups of smokers
massing around doorways and exits, using some of their last smoking
refuges at the University.
But for some, even a small pack of smokers can pose a health
Wandee Yamchanchai, a Public Health student, walks every day
through Central Campus on her way to class and suffers from the
presence of smokers outside buildings and on walkways.
“I have very sensitive allergies. Even when you are walking
between the buildings, the smoke is everywhere. When you walk on
the pathways, you inhale smoke,” Yamchanchai said.
In addition to the effects some people with specific smoke
allergies experience, second-hand smoke is a class A carcinogen and
kills 3,000 non-smokers every year, according to the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency’s website.
The University’s polices regarding smoking in public places
mandate that no smoking is allowed in any University building and
that anyone who wishes to smoke outside must be a “reasonable
distance” from any building.
The University made all rooms and public areas in residence
halls smoke free last month, sending smokers outside. But since
ashtrays are placed directly outside the exits of dorms, some
students notice that smokers tend to stay close to the dorms, and
question whether a “reasonable distance,” is respected.
“A lot of my friends are smokers and they are all outside my
dorm. They stand right outside my door,” said LSA freshman Lauren
Greg Merritt, assistance director of residence housing, said he
thinks the definition of “reasonable distance” works better than a
“It’s a nice idea to have a defined distance, but it is
incredibly difficult to enforce,” Merritt said.
In residence halls, rules can be more flexible than in other
University buildings, Merritt said.
“The environment we work in is with a community of smokers. We
can work collectively. You know the people smoking outside the
dorms – you don’t who’s smoking in public places, like the
library,” he said.
Libraries, a public place in which smoking students often
frequent, have more trouble addressing the issue of second-hand
Associate University Librarian for Public Services Brenda
Johnson said the library is too small to fully deal with the issue
of public smoking.
“Presumably, people observe University policy, but just look at
the location of the butts. They are scattered around the entrances
– not really a reasonable distance,” Johnson said.
“We are too shortly staffed to have people policing outside.
We’d be pulling someone away from their job to have them go outside
and see if people are smoking far enough away from the library,”
Other universities have instated smoking policies designed to
minimize the presence of second-hand smoke. Michigan State
University has a similar policy to the University’s, requiring
smokers to maintain a “reasonable distance” from buildings. At
Central Michigan University, smokers must be 25 feet from
buildings, but smoking is permitted in designated residence hall
Yamchanchai suggested that the University create specific areas
outside dorms designed for smokers so that the smoke itself is in
an isolated area.
Merritt said the creation of a specific smoking area is fraught
“It’s like Murphy’s Law. Anytime you try and set up a smokers
only area near an exit or anywhere outside the building, you’ll
find that someone (a non smoker) uses that area and has a problem,”
For now, everyone agreed that the second-hand smoking issue is
in the hands of the smokers themselves and that University rules
can only go so far.
Engineering sophomore Natalie Levy said rules could only affect
“You can change policy, but you can’t tell people not to smoke,”