UPDATED 10 p.m. Wednesday
URBANA — Smokers have just over a year to indulge their habit at the University of Illinois before a new smoke-free policy takes effect — including at outdoor sporting events.
The UI's Urbana campus will become smoke-free by November 2013, Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise announced Wednesday, a response to a student campaign that started last year. A policy will be developed in coming months with input from the campus community.
The campus already prohibits smoking inside public buildings, with the exception of designated hotel rooms, and within 25 feet of a building entrance. State law is similar, with a 15-foot outdoor restriction.
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 would be eliminated.
"We want to ensure a healthy environment for our entire campus community," Wise said in a news release. "It's more about changing the campus culture and adhering to the principles we hold here. There is incontrovertible evidence that smoking is a dangerous addiction — and that secondhand smoke affects everyone — so we'd like to not promote it on our campus."
Last November, in a non-binding referendum that drew relatively heavy turnout, students voted by more than a 2-to-1 margin in favor of a smoke-free campus, 7,123 to 3,231.
At the students' request, Wise formed a committee last spring to consider the issue. It examined three options: no change, moving to a smoke-free policy, or banning tobacco altogether.
Committee member Keenan Kassar, a UI student who launched the smoke-free campaign in 2011 with former Student Trustee Hannah Ehrenberg, said the panel's primary concern was exposure to secondhand smoke, which is why it opted against going tobacco-free.
"We knew we had a lot of support, especially with students," he said.
Kassar was ecstatic about the chancellor's announcement Wednesday.
"This isn't just any change," he said. "This will actually impact students on campus in a visible way. You won't be seeing all these cigarette butts on the floor any more. We won't be exposed to secondhand smoke every time we leave the undergraduate library."
Subcommittees including students, faculty, staff and others — smokers and nonsmokers — will be formed to address issues related to the smoking ban, officials said.
Based on the committee's report, they will address how to work with unionized employees on campus; how to reach out to international students and others with different cultural attitudes toward smoking; and how to treat private cars parked on campus or apply the policy on city streets and sidewalks that intersect campus.
The campus also plans to enhance services offered through McKinley Health Center to help smokers who want to quit, and have discussions with smokers generally to ensure a smooth transition, Kassar said.
The committee wanted to give the campus time to implement the policy, and give smokers time to adapt, said Michele Guerra, director of the UI Wellness Center.
"We're concerned about tobacco users on campus and we will do everything we can to help them along the way," she said. "It's a personal decision whether or not to use tobacco. We're not trying to push people into a decision one way or the other. We want to make sure everyone who wants a voice will have a voice."
Guerra said the policy will apply to all university-owned property, likely including private cars parked in UI lots.
Kassar said some of his friends have criticized the effort as a limit on smokers' personal freedom.
"It is also the non-smoker's right to not be exposed to that secondhand smoke. ... It's two-sided, it's not a one-way freedom issue," Kassar said.
The committee's report concluded that the 25-foot boundary in the current campus policy doesn't reliably prevent secondhand smoke exposure, in part because it isn't always enforced. The report noted that the U.S. surgeon general determined in 2006 that "there is no risk-free exposure" to secondhand smoke, which causes lung cancer, heart disease and respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma.
More than 1,200 people die each day from smoking, and nearly nine out of 10 smokers began smoking by age 18 and 99 percent by age 26, the report said.
Guerra said the policy is designed to provide a healthy environment for everyone on campus, "and to ensure all people have the right to breathe in smoke-free air."
Eight other research universities have adopted smoke-free policies — Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon and Purdue, the report said.
Kassar said more and more workplaces are becoming smoke-free, especially in health-related fields, so this will help prepare students for their careers.
Last April, a survey of a random sample of the UI community showed that about half of students and employees would support a tobacco-free policy.
"I think the U of I is definitely a leader in this, and I think a lot of schools will follow," said Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator Julie Pryde, who was thrilled with the news.
"The beauty of this is it came from the students and the university respected it, and it will create a much nicer environment," Pryde said. "As a person with asthma, I would have loved to have a smoke-free campus."