UI police crack down on on-campus smoking


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University of Iowa police have cracked down on on-campus smoking since 2008, when the state instituted a ban on smoking in many public places, including schools, bars, and restaurants.

Associate Director of UI police Dave Visin said enough time has passed for students and staff to be "educated" about the law.

"We've given education, signage and notified the public," he said. "Now, we're going to start enforcing the law and writing citations."

UI spokesman Tom Moore said UI police have responded to slightly more than 1,000 prohibited-smoking calls. Of those calls, 183 resulted in citations.

In 2011, UI police received 424 reports of smoking on campus and issued 146 citations. That's a significant increase compared with the previous year, when police received 200 reports of smoking on campus, 12 resulting in citations.

Visin said UI police have received more complaints about smoking from residents as well as two notices from the Department of Public Health.

"We get more complaints; we make more contacts," he said. "It's an inevitable response that we're writing more citations."

UI officials say enforcing the no-smoking policy on campus can be difficult.

Charles Green, the assistant vice president for the UI police, said it's hard to enforce a strict smoke-free campus because of its expansive size and its integration with the city. This can sometimes cause confusion for where people are allowed to smoke.

"Like any law, you're going to have a number of people who obey, those who [smoke] anyway, and those who actually don't know about the law, which is common among visitors and new students," Green said. "It's the officer's job to try to determine which group people belong to."

Green said officers do give people warnings if they say they were not aware of the law. Citations are issued mainly for habitual offenders, he said.

Moore said the university's smoking policy is available throughout campus, including a map on the university's website and in residence-hall guidebooks.

Police officers were recently called to Hillcrest after reports of smoke filling a stairwell. When the officers arrived on the scene Jan. 20 and the building was evacuated, they discovered that the smoke came from a cigarette lying near an air-intake vent.

Von Stange, the UI director of University Housing and Dining, said the way the residence halls were constructed, outside air ducts easily pull in any smoke.

"All residence halls breathe by pulling air in from the outside," he said. "So we can still catch students who blow their smoke outside because it gets pulled back into the hallways."

Weather often pushes residence-hall students to stay closer to the buildings, he noted.

"It tends to depend on the weather; some students don't want to go outside when it's cold, and they smoke in their rooms," Stange said.

Green was unable to provide figure detailing the number of calls the department receives about smoking in the dorms.

While Iowa City Fire Chief Andy Rocca admits that fires and alarms are commonly caused by careless smoking, the alarm at Hillcrest is an uncommon case.

"Generally, this is kind of a unique thing for a fire on the exterior of a building to generate a fire alarm inside a building," he said. "There have been a couple of calls in the Hillcrest area, which might mean that there are some combustibles over there where people are discarding their cigarettes."

There is also a cost to false alarms, which trigger the arrival of the Fire Department, ambulances, and police. The university must handle the cost.

"We have a contract with the Fire Department," Stange said. "I've heard it's in the neighborhood of $1,000. We have had contractors in the summer accidentally set off alarms, and that's the number we give them."

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