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BU could join hundreds of campuses in smoking crackdown

Posted by Roy Greene  October 13, 2011 11:03 AM

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Tired of wading through smoke en route to classes, Boston University student leaders are pushing for a crackdown on smoking outside campus buildings.

If student leaders succeed, campus smokers will no longer get to light up anywhere they want, particularly in heavily trafficked areas like the “smokers’ benches” outside the 18-story freshman dorm, Warren Towers. Instead, smokers will be relegated to designated smoking spots.

Student leaders, who began debating the idea last month, hope by the end of the school year to win the administration’s approval for a partial ban on smoking on campus grounds.

Danielle Chudolij photo
A BU freshman lighting up.
Nationally, at least 586 colleges and universities, have banned smoking entirely on their campuses in the past several years, according to the Berkeley, Calif., -based American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. Eight Massachusetts schools, a mix of community colleges and four-year schools including the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, are on the foundation’s list as well as the City University of New York, which banned smoking on its 23 campuses in January.

(Click here to see the most recent compilation of colleges that have banned smoking.)

“Personally, I would really like it,” said Pam Rerko, a 21-year-old BU senior from Lakewood, Ohio. “It’s kind of obnoxious that people hang around and smoke right as you’re about to walk into a building.”

But while some students embrace more restrictions, others question whether BU would infringe on students’ rights if it imposed a smoking ban.

Smoking is already banned from public buildings in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, including bars and restaurants, and Boston city law prohibits smoking on patios outside those businesses. But those laws do not cover what smokers can do on sidewalks or elsewhere on campus.

Student body president Howard Male introduced the idea of a smoking ban last month. During a subsequent meeting this month, members of the Student Senate said banning all smoking outside would be too restrictive and hard to enforce. They say they are trying to balance students’ rights to smoke with the rights of others to breathe clean air.

“BU shouldn’t want to ban smoking because they don’t want to act like our parents - telling us what we can and can’t do,” said junior Kimmy Hammett, 20, a Student Senate member from Coatesville, Pa.

Instead, the Student Union hopes to persuade the administration to designate smoking areas on campus that are located away from doors and sidewalks.

Even while students agree that a ban would benefit nonsmokers, many -- whether they smoke or not -- agree it would impede the rights of those who do choose to smoke.

“I wish that they could ban smoking, because I hate breathing in smoke while walking to class,” said sophomore Annie Frantel, 19, a sophomore from Canandaigua, N.Y. “But then you’re encroaching upon [smokers’] rights.”

Frantel said she did not believe the school could say, “You can’t smoke in the middle of Boston on the sidewalk.”

Several students smoking by Warren Towers scoffed at the proposal, saying passersby who do not like inhaling second-hand smoke can just walk away.

If BU imposes more restrictions, though, one smoker said she would heed the new rules.

“The biggest thing is that there’s no ashtrays anywhere,” said Emily Overholt , 20, a freshman from Paradise Valley, Ariz. “If you put an ashtray somewhere, people will smoke there.”

The unofficial smoking spot at Warren Towers, Overholt added, can be unsightly. She pointed to the ground, littered with cigarette butts.

The next step for the Student Union is to pass a resolution restricting smoking, a symbolic move that could urge administrators into action. The proposal would have to pass through many administrative committees before receiving the BU president’s approval.

Restricting smoking on BU’s Charles River campus, which spans nearly two miles along the river and stretches south into the Fenway-Kenmore area, would affect anyone, not just students, who treks across the campus daily.

The biggest issue will be enforcement. Signs around campus that warn BU students not to smoke in front of buildings -- like the much-traversed entrance to Mugar Memorial Library -- go largely ignored.

“It’s all about enforcement,” said Kenneth Elmore, Boston University’s dean of students. “How strictly do we want to enforce this? Do we want the police to walk around and start yanking people out?”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.

Related: Boston to ban smoking in public housing.

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