Some question effectiveness of campus smoking ban


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University of Iowa freshman Will Tapella said he smokes a pack of cigarettes a day — and he usually lights up outside Burge Residence Hall.

While smoking is banned on the University of Iowa campus, the 19-year-old said he has never received a citation. Generally, he said, there is only one police officer who has said anything to him outside Burge.

"He's warned us … to take steps closer to the road," Tapella said, adding he also smokes walking through the Pentacrest — another prohibited area — and has never been stopped there.

Smoking on the UI campus has been illegal for more than two years, but people lighting up on campus is still a common sight. The Smokefree Air Act went into effect July 1, 2008, and smoking on the UI campus became an offense carrying a $50 citation.

But the number of citations for smoking in a prohibited area has decreased since the ban was enacted. According to UI police, officers wrote 25 citations in 2009 for smoking in a prohibited area. Since the beginning of this year, they have written eight.

David Visin, the associate director of the UI police, said the decrease comes from people's heightened awareness of the law.

"I believe it is due to increased signage and education," he wrote in an e-mail. "We enforce what we see. That has not changed."

The number of calls for service regarding smoking — either when someone calls in a complaint or when officers issue a warning — has also decreased.

In 2009, 312 calls for service were made, and in 2010, there were 172 through the end of October.
Although police attribute the drop to increased education, some students said they saw a lack of enforcement.

"I have never seen the police handle a situation," said sophomore Nolan Petersen, 19. "It's like a myth. I always hear of kids getting smoking tickets, but I've never seen it."

Other students — both smokers and nonsmokers — agreed.

"This is a non smoking campus, and I see a lot of people smoking," said freshman Kayla Beck, 19. "I'm concerned about their health and those around them."

Since the ban, signs have gone up around campus including all building entrances and exits, in parking structures, and at other key points around campus. The signs list the fee for smoking on campus and a number to report someone.

"I don't think the police do enough," said 19-year-old freshman Cameron Hayward. "I have seen people smoking and the police walked right past without so much as a few words."

Despite some complaints, police said, they still monitor smokers; however, it's not their main focus.
"It is not a high priority on our list — we are not conducting surveillance or stings," Visin said.

But an expert said the ban may not be effective without enforcement.

Mark Vander Weg, a UI associate professor of internal medicine, said that while banning smoking helps reduce the number of smokers, it's not enough.

"As with all smoking policies, however, enforcement is key," he said. "When the laws are not actively enforced, the impact is obviously significantly reduced."

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