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Cal State OKs Tighter Smoking Rules

September 18, 2002|ERIKA HAYASAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

California smokers have long complained that overzealous health nuts are choking off every chance they have to inhale. But a new regulation passed Tuesday by the California State University system has cigarette puffers really put out.

State law requires smokers to stand 5 feet away from the entrances of public buildings before lighting up, but Cal State's regulation would allow campuses to bump up that distance by 20 feet or more.

The regulation, passed unanimously by Cal State's Board of Trustees, encourages the system's 23 campuses to tighten outside smoking bans. The final decision is up to each school president, after input from students.

"It is insane," said Megan Brophy, 22, who attends Cal State Northridge. "There's no smoking in buildings. We can't smoke in class. But now they don't want us to smoke outside in a public place."

Joey Abbene, 18, agreed. "There's a lot of stress in college," said Abbene, who frequently turns to cigarettes to unwind. "I don't understand people who complain about that."

Many people have indeed complained. A coalition of public smoking opponents from eight Cal State campuses came together under the acronym COUGH--Campuses Organized and United for Good Health--to push for tightened smoking regulations at every Cal State campus.

Cal State trustee Fred Pierce said the board's actions set a strong example for other universities, and he encouraged trustees to go further in their efforts by supporting a universitywide rule requiring smokers to move at least 20 feet from buildings.

Two Cal State campuses already have smoking regulations that are stronger than state law requires, according to a university spokeswoman.

Cal State Northridge requires all smokers to remain 30 feet from entrances to campus buildings, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo requires smokers to stand 15 feet from residence halls.

In California, restrictions on smoking have steadily increased. In 1995, the Legislature passed a ban on smoking in most indoor workplaces, which was expanded to include bars, casinos and restaurants a year later. Last year, a law was passed banning smoking on playgrounds.

Excessive public condemnation has made a mockery of smokers, Brophy said. "We're the rebels. The outcasts of society," she said.

Brophy said she once was smoking inside her car with the windows rolled down, stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, when a person in the car next to her yelled for her to put out the cigarette or roll up the windows.

"People need to chill," she said.

Andrew Quezada, 20, a Marlboro Red-smoking student at Cal State Los Angeles, recalled puffing away on the outdoor patio of a bar when a group nearby muttered "smoke kills."

The invasion of gruesome anti-smoking commercials has made life as a smoker even more unpleasant, Brophy said.

She said she feels queasy while watching some television ads, and resents that women are portrayed as unattractive if they have a cigarette hanging from their mouths.

Still, the die-hards vow not to be deterred by more regulations.

"It's not like you have to sit by me," Quezada said. "Go sit somewhere else."

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