Committee discusses campus smoking ban

Faculty members and students are taking steps toward making a campus-wide smoking ban a reality.

The Ad Hoc Committee Investigating a Smoke-Free Campus met Monday and was put together by the Office of the Chancellor as a response to a student vote in favor of progress toward a ban.

The committee aims to examine the feasibility of a smoke-free campus, develop options for such a campus and make a recommendation to Chancellor Phyllis Wise, who will make the ultimate decision about the matter. This committee is also charged with developing a strategic plan for a change in policy, if that is the outcome.

At its meeting Monday, the committee discussed examples of other large university campuses that have set forth their own smoke-free initiatives.

Though the smoke-free referendum passed with more than 70 percent of the student vote, Robert Palinkas, director of McKinley Health Center, said the challenge of implementing a smoke-free campus policy will most likely lie in relations with smokers on faculty and staff.

“We think the largest number of addicted smokers are not among student population,” he said. “There are more smokers and more addicted smokers in the employee group.”

While McKinley offers a smoking cessation program and the University offers an employee assistance program, many smokers on campus are physically addicted, Palinkas said.

“We can’t deny them the ability to go smoke,” said Mike DeLorenzo, associate chancellor for student affairs. “If they are on a part of campus where a smoking area is not close by, that’s an issue.”

The process of implementing a smoke-free policy at other Big Ten schools was oftentimes met with resistance from employee labor unions, said Robyn Deterding, director of Campus Recreation.

While some schools, such as the University of Michigan, opted for gradual change, others implemented policies that would curb smoking “cold turkey,” Deterding said. Michigan began investigating the feasibility of a smoke-free campus in 2005, but the plan only began taking full effect last summer.

Craig Hoefer, assistant director of Labor and Employee Relations, said bargaining with labor unions would potentially be necessary. Though in Illinois, there is no case law set as a precedent in regards to smoke-free employment, in many other states, unions need to be a part of the conversation, he said.

DeLorenzo said that based off of Monday’s meeting, he is hopeful that the investigation process will not take more than a semester. Keenan Kassar, former student senator and original author of a smoke-free resolution, agreed but said he wants to tread carefully.

“I don’t see why we’d wait too long, but I also don’t want anything to be lost in the process,” he said.