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Should colleges ban smoking on campus? Many in NW think so

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Soon, you might not see college students smoking on campus. Schools are increasingly giving cigarettes the boot.

The ability to smoke a cigarette on college campuses is becoming a subject for the history books.

Several colleges in the Pacific Northwest have banned smoking – not only in and around buildings as required by law – but everywhere on school grounds.

At South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, students used to be able to have a quick smoke as they hustled between classes last year. Not anymore.

In September, every square inch of campus became a tobacco free zone – meaning no cigarettes, no pipes, no chew, nada. 

Kellie Purse Braseth, spokeswoman for the college, says the main reason for the change is health:

“People who do not smoke didn’t want to be exposed to second hand smoke," she says. "So, there was kind of this tension between the smokers and nonsmokers. Even as we did enforce the 25 feet away from doorways, that sort of thing. It was still a problem.”

So were the cigarette butts custodians were constantly cleaning up.

Student reactions

Some students suggested the solution would be an all out ban of tobacco. After surveying faculty and students, administrators agreed, with one exception. They couldn’t restrict what people do in private cars, even in the parking lot.

Purse Braseth says some of welding students at South Puget Sound have taken advantage of the loophole:

“One of them has a truck and they have taken to putting lawn chairs in the bed of the truck," she says. "On their breaks, they sit outside on the lawn chairs in the bed of the truck and they smoke. And they technically are not in violation of their policy because they’re in their vehicle.”

More schools throwing tobacco out

Washington only has a handful of colleges that have extinguished cigarettes campus-wide, including Seattle Pacific University and Clark College, since the state outlawed smoking within 25 feet of buildings in 2005. Oregon has a much higher number of that have gone smoke free. Even more will soon be jumping on the bandwagon within the next year, such as:

  • Pacific Lutheran University
  • University of Oregon
  • Oregon State University

One school not considering a cigarette ban is the University of Washington.

“There has not been a groundswell on either side to cause me to believe we need to go to that,” says Jude Van Buren, director of environmental health and safety at UW.

Are smoking sections good enough?

UW juggles the needs of non-smokers and those who want to take a puff by maintaining about 40 smoking areas on the Seattle campus.

“You know it’s one of those issues that doesn’t seem to be real broke here, although, I know not everyone is happy," Van Buren says. "Probably, that’s good public policy if you’re in the middle of where everybody lands on this.”

And if there’s a key to making rules on campus stick – administrators agree it’s getting buy-in from a majority of the students and staff. They say university police alone are no match for Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man. 

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