Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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UT will snuff smoking in campus dorm rooms


University of Toledo freshman Bob Uhoda foresees a benefit when an in-dorm smoking ban affects him next year. He is a resident of Parks Tower.


When it comes to cigarette smoke and college dorms, John Stayanchi wishes smokers would just butt out.

“If they smoke here, it stays here,” said the University of Toledo senior.

Mr. Stayanchi lives in Parks Tower, a 16-story building where students on most floors may smoke in their rooms as long as they have their roommates' permission.

Smoking is prohibited in public areas, but without windows that can be opened for ventilation, residents say it's not uncommon for the smell of smoke to waft down the halls and from floor to floor.

Mr. Stayanchi may have his wish soon: UT's newest residence hall, The Crossings, has been designated smoke-free, and students have been informed that the rest of the dorms will follow suit next year.

The majority of Ohio's public colleges - including Bowling Green State University, Ohio State University, and, most recently, Miami University - have smoke-free residence halls.

In some ways, these colleges are ahead of the curve nationally. A Harvard University study published last year found that only 27 percent of colleges had prohibited smoking in dormitories.

“The movement toward having smoke-free and substance-free dorms started about a decade ago. It has not been overwhelming, but there has been a steady trend toward having smoke-free dorms,” said Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel for the Washington-based American Council on Education, which represents 1,800 colleges and universities.

Top reasons cited for taking this step are concerns related to secondhand smoke and the fact that smoking accounts for a third of fires in residence halls.

“What you've seen in this instance is the college and university community following very closely on the heels of the corporate community in trying to establish a healthier working and living environment,” Mr. Steinbach said.

Prompted by health concerns, Heidelberg College in Tiffin has had smoke-free dorms for about four years and has prohibited smoking in all campus buildings for the last three years.

“You can smoke on our campus if you are outside,” said Jim Troha, Heidelberg's vice president for student affairs and dean of students.

At one point, the college outlawed smoking within 30 feet of campus buildings, but that met with a strong negative response from students and was swiftly repealed, officials said.

While more than a quarter of today's college-aged students smoke cigarettes, another Harvard study found that those who do not are 40 percent less likely to take up the habit if they live in smoke-free dorms.

“I think most people will agree that it's a health issue, and in a facility such as a residence hall you cannot contain the smoke to a single room,” said Wayne Gates, UT's assistant vice president for student affairs, residence life.

“It clings to everything,” complained Todd Comer, a UT sophomore from Canton, Ohio, who shared a room with a smoker last year. Even though the two agreed to a smoke-free room, their living quarters still smelled of cigarettes from time to time, he said.

This year the issue became an important factor for Mr. Comer in selecting a roommate.

“Definitely, before I decided to pick this person, I asked them if they smoked,” he said.

The larger issue of regulating smoking grabbed headlines when the Toledo-Lucas County health board tried to ban smoking in all public places in Lucas County, including bars and restaurants. That plan was shot down last week when the Ohio Supreme Court, by a 6-1 vote, ruled that the Ohio General Assembly had not given authority to health boards to regulate smoking. Representatives of anti-smoking groups said they plan to take the fight to voters.

Specifically tackling the issue of college smokers has become more important in recent years as tobacco firms have shifted their marketing efforts from teens to college-aged students, said Stu Kerr, regional policy coordinator for Tobacco-Free Ohio, a statewide anti-smoking organization.

At UT, J.D. Heilman, a junior from Monroe who is on the Resident Student Association's executive board, believes that most students will favor the planned change to nonsmoking dorms.

“You have people smoking and even if it's not your room, you can smell it down the hall,” Mr. Heilman said.

Some smokers, like Chris Liukkonen, a freshman from Madison, Ohio, said they approve of the move and won't mind stepping outside for a puff, an activity that often becomes a social gathering.

“I actually prefer to come outside,” Mr. Liukkonen said.

Likewise, Bob Uhoda, a freshman from Cleveland, who sometimes smokes in his room, said the change is for the best.

“I'd actually rather have it changed,” he said. “Then our clothes won't stink next year.”

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