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UC schools stamp out cigarettes and other tobacco products on campus

University of California campuses, including UC Riverside, aim to reduce secondhand smoke. Most schools also ban e-cigarettes.

January 06, 2014|By Jason Song
  • UC Riverside and all other University of California schools will go tobacco-free this year, banning cigarettes and other tobacco products on campus.
UC Riverside and all other University of California schools will go tobacco-free… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Starting this year, UC Riverside and all other University of California campuses will be tobacco-free, part of a nationwide trend.

The campuses are following the lead of UCLA, which barred cigarettes and other tobacco products from campus last year. Former UC system President Mark G. Yudolf called for all campuses to be free of tobacco by 2014.

In a survey of nearly 1,700 Riverside students and staff, 84% of respondents said they did not smoke or use tobacco products. Nearly 86% of people who responded said they were exposed to secondhand smoke on a regular basis.

Haroun Mohammad, a first-year biochemistry graduate student at the university, said he smokes a pack of cigarettes a month but plans to abide by the ban. He said he understands how some people might be irritated by secondhand smoke.

"You walk in back of someone who's smoking and it's not that pleasant," he said.

On the school's Facebook page, several commenters questioned why the school would ban e-cigarettes, but campus officials said the products have not been proved safe.

Irvine is the only UC school to allow e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco on campus.

About 1,100 colleges and universities nationwide, including many in California, have gone smoke-free, according to estimates. Workers at San Diego State University are removing ashtrays from its 12 designated smoking areas, and Riverside administrators have spent nearly $50,000 on signs, fliers, magnets and events to remind students and staff of the new ban.

Riverside administrators also plan to offer counseling and resources to people trying to kick the habit.

After UCLA banned all tobacco products last spring and asked smokers to abide by an honor system, administrators began noticing a decrease in butts on campus. In one area popular with smokers, the number of discarded cigarettes fell from 600 to 160 between cleanings, said Linda Sarna, a professor at the school of nursing.

Sarna said she had heard that some students and staff have quit as a result of the tobacco ban but added that many smokers have gravitated to other spots on campus.

Administrators have received a few emailed complaints about people lighting up in some areas. "We know we don't have 100% compliance, but we've made very good progress," Sarna said.

Under Riverside's policy, students who are caught smoking can be referred to a conduct committee of students and staff. University employees can speak to their supervisors about resources available for smokers who want to quit.

Riverside's academic senate also has the power to discipline repeat faculty offenders, although it is unclear what the punishment could be.

Students and staff are also barred from using e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco anywhere on the school, including in their cars.

Frank Lee, a fifth-year business and marketing major who said he occasionally smokes, said nobody had ever asked him to put his cigarette out. "They just walk by you," he said.

Still, Lee said, he would try not to smoke in front of groups of visiting prospective students because he wouldn't want to offend them.

Mohammad said he thought students would learn to cope. "As soon as you leave campus, you're going to smoke, even if it's just across the street," he said.

There was only time Mohammad thought he would want to take a smoke break on campus. "I got to have a cigarette during finals week," he said.

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