No-smoking policy on UI campus takes effect Jan. 1
CHAMPAIGN — For Illini tailgaters, some things are sacred.
The grill. The beer (shhh, don't tell). The orange and blue tent (or bus). And the right to enjoy an occasional — very occasional, of late — victory cigar.
In future seasons, they'll have to do it on the sly.
The entire UI campus — indoors and out — is going smoke-free Jan. 1. And that means no more smoking at tailgates. Or in your car or anywhere else on UI property.
That news did not sit well with some fans at the final home game of the season Nov. 30.
"I think it's kind of silly, in an environment like this," said Chris Roegge of Urbana, puffing on his last legal tailgate cigar.
"I can understand in and around buildings, or central campus," said Roegge, who is also a UI employee. "But how do they enforce something like that?"
For fellow tailgater and occasional cigar smoker Dan Tappendorf of Champaign, it's more fundamental.
"Have you ever heard of the word liberty? He's not hurting anybody," he said. "I think the political correctness has gone too far. Everybody should have the freedom to find their own pursuit of happiness."
The campus already prohibits smoking inside public buildings, except for designated hotel rooms, and within 25 feet of a building entrance. State law is similar, with a 15-foot outdoor restriction.
It's not uncommon to find employees or students huddled outside the UI Library, Foreign Language Building or Illini Union, taking a puff between classes or on break. Cigarette butts scattered on the ground tell the tale. The new policy will ban smoking from all university property — on the Quad, in Memorial Stadium or at athletic or entertainment events. Designated smoking areas will be eliminated.
It also bans e-cigarettes, which emit water vapor rather than smoke. They're used by some smokers to try to quit, with gradually reduced nicotine levels.
Campus officials say the industry is relatively new and unregulated, which puts users at risk. And some studies have shown that the vapor contains a similar carcinogen to tobacco smoke. The CDC and other public health organizations discourage their use, said Michele Guerra, director of the UI Wellness Center.
"We don't know enough about their risks," she said.
The anti-tobacco road
The UI effort is part of a growing smoke-free movement nationally and a push by UI students locally. In a 2011 nonbinding referendum, UI students voted in favor of a smoke-free campus, 7,123 to 3,231. The campus announced the new policy in October 2012.
It was originally set to take effect in November, but "we didn't want to hit people right before finals," said campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler.
Chancellor Phyllis Wise has said the UI wants to ensure a healthy environment for the entire campus community, citing "incontrovertible evidence that smoking is a dangerous addiction" and that second-hand smoke poses risks for nonsmokers.
Smoking is a particular concern for students, advocates say. A 2012 Surgeon General's report found that tobacco use among youths 12 to 17 and young adults ages 18 to 25 had decreased but was still at epidemic proportions. Among its findings: Nearly nine out of 10 smokers started smoking by age 18; 99 percent started by age 26; and almost no one starts smoking after age 25.
The American College Health Association has urged campuses to adopt stricter policies in 2009, and in 2012 the Department of Health and Human Services partnered with the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation to launch a Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative.
With the trend toward smoke-free workplaces, restaurants and bars, there's greater awareness among the public about the benefits, said Cynthia Hallett, director of the foundation. More cities and states are going smoke-free, but not all of those laws apply to college campuses, so universities are enacting their own policies, she said.
More than 1,100 college campuses are now smoke-free, or about 25 percent, according to the foundation. The list includes universities from power football conferences — Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and South Carolina as well as two Big Ten schools, Michigan and Iowa. Indiana is close, allowing only minor exceptions with the approval of the provost, and Minnesota is set to enact a similar policy in 2014.
Other Big Ten schools restrict smoking indoors and place some limits on outdoor smoking.
Some say their campuses are too sprawling for a complete ban.
"If we were going to have a no-smoking policy anywhere on campus, it would be almost impossible to enforce," said Annemarie Mountz, assistant director of public information at Penn State.
That's the big question at the UI.
The university plans to focus on education and communication, especially during the first few months, to make sure students, employees and visitors understand the rules, said Guerra, whose office is coordinating policy implementation.
A dozen student ambassadors are being recruited to have "diplomatic conversations" about the new policy if they see someone smoking on campus. Resident advisers and others have been trained as well. New no-smoking signs will be posted over winter break — especially outdoors, where smokers are known to gather.
A new "Smoke-Free Campus" website features commonly asked questions and other information. It will soon have a map showing campus boundaries and which streets are UI vs. city property.
Guerra concedes some employees might have trouble adjusting, if they're used to taking several cigarette breaks a day and work in central campus with no options for smoking off university grounds.
Supervisors have been educated about tobacco addiction, she said, and the campus will offer resources to help smokers quit or just "get through the day."
The Activities and Recreation Center, State Farm Center, Illini Union and residence halls will sell nicotine gum or lozenges, and the campus has "quit kits" with tips to help people get through the cravings, she said.
"Nobody's really going to come down on a smoker who's having a hard time adjusting to the new policy," Guerra said. "We're not asking people to quit smoking. We're asking people out of concern for keeping the entire campus community healthy to not smoke on campus property."
The campus is also creating a reporting line for complaints, where someone can report a repeat offender (though not anonymously).
In some cases it's hard to tell where the campus ends and the cities begin, especially on sidewalks and streets, said UI Deputy Police Chief Skip Frost. At the corner of Fourth Street and Gregory Drive, for instance, only the northwest corner is private property; the other three are owned by the university.
"It's not going to be easy," said Frost, who's taken plenty of calls from anxious smokers. "Once people realize where it is and is not tolerated, I think it will work itself out."
For repeat offenders, the campus already has mechanisms in place to deal with people who violate current no-smoking rules, just like violations of any other campus policy, officials said. For students, that's the student disciplinary code overseen by the Dean of Students Office. Employees have staff handbooks and are governed by deans, department heads or human resources.
For the record: Police will not be the first point of contact, Frost said.
"We jokingly have been referred to as the no-smoking police. That's not going to be the case," he said.
"This is not a law. This is a policy. We will not issue citations and take people to jail for smoking," he said.
There will be times when police have to get involved if people refuse to comply or become aggressive, Frost said. But the hope is that won't happen often.
What can fans expect?
Parking attendants and security officials will likely remind people about the policy as they enter and ask them to stop smoking if they see them. But police don't plan to scour the area looking for scofflaws, Frost said.
"We're not going to be lying in the bushes and jumping upon people," Frost said.
It's similar to their approach to people who drink alcohol at tailgates, which technically violates a state law banning open alcohol containers on public property. As long as they're above the legal drinking age and don't infringe on other tailgaters, police aren't too aggressive.
But as with alcohol, if visitors refuse to comply after being warned, they'll be asked to leave, he said.
"We talked to a lot of other campuses about tailgating, and tailgating is a challenge," Guerra said.
The chancellor's office will review the policy in three months, Guerra said. She and her staff are doing visual surveys of smokers on campus now and over the next few months, to see if the new policy has an impact. They're also tracking cigarette-butt litter at strategic locations. They picked up 229 cigarette butts outside the State Farm Center on Wednesday morning, after a men's basketball game.
The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics has been educating fans about the smoke-free policy through public service announcements at games, signs posted outside athletic venues where smokers gather, and video messages at Memorial Stadium. Season ticket-holders were also given information in their fan guides, said DIA spokesman Kent Brown.
He hasn't heard too many complaints from fans yet.
Guerra has heard plenty about infringements on personal freedom.
Some tailgaters wondered why the campus worries about smoking in such a large outdoor area.
"If we're outside, I don't see the big deal," said Charlie Miller of Mansfield.
Guerra said it will give people a recourse if they're bothered by smoke, especially for health reasons.
"What we're looking at is a balance between the fact that tobacco is a legal substance and that people have a legal right to smoke, balanced with the public health concern that secondhand smoke is a Class C carcinogen, and there's no safe exposure to secondhand smoke," she said.
"There are thousands of people in Illinois who die from secondhand smoke exposure every year," she said, and for children, older adults, pregnant women or those with heart or lung conditions, "secondhand smoke can have immediate effects."
Miller and other tailgaters said they'll probably comply with the new policy — if asked.
"I'll probably bring my cigars next year and light 'em up, and if they tell me to throw them away and quit, I'll quit," Roegge said.
Smoking on campus, by the numbers
1,127: college campuses are 100 percent smoke-free, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation.
758: campuses are 100 percent tobacco-free.
24.7% of UI students said they use some form of tobacco at least occasionally, according to a spring 2013 campus survey.
14.8% of UI employees said they use some form of tobacco at least occasionally.
7.6% of UI studentsand employees identified themselves are regular smokers.
23: pounds of cigarette butts were collected by UI volunteers on campus in two hours last spring as part of Earth Day activities.