Irritation smolders over college smoking bans
When Katie Appleton lived on the Skidmore College campus last year, the Dallas native had a ritual whenever she wanted to smoke.
First, she put a towel down over the door. Then she opened a window. Then she turned on two fans, both of which faced outside.
Then she lit up.
Skidmore is one of five local colleges that have banned smoking from dormitories. Around the nation, more and more colleges are restricting how students smoke -- refusing to let on-campus stores sell cigarettes and even telling smokers how far from outside building doorways they have to stand. At the University of Florida, for instance, smokers are discouraged from standing within 50 feet.
The policies echo increasing restrictions in restaurants, bars and public places around the country.
But at some local colleges, many young people say you can take the smoker out of the building, but not the smoker out of the student.
"I don't really appreciate them making decisions for me," said Appleton, now 21, who has been smoking for seven years and has no plans to stop. "I'm not a stupid girl. I understand it's my decision."
Anti-smoking activists say the rules are about protecting people who don't want to be around smoke, not about forcing students to quit.
"We're not saying you can't smoke. We're saying you can't affect people who don't smoke," said Michael McNeil, a State University College at Oswego health staffer and member of the American College Health Association. Two years ago, the association recommended the banning of smoking in dorms and close to academic buildings.
To some, the rules are ludicrous.
"The thought that they can actually ban cigarettes is rather ridiculous," said Wanda Hamilton of Miami, Fla., a retired professor and member of the group FORCES, which stands for Fight Ordinances and Restrictions to Control and Eliminate Smoking. She said she understood the need for smoke-free dorms, but not for an entire indoor ban on campus.
Nonsmokers, Hamilton said, do have a right to live in a place where they don't have to breathe cigarette smoke. "On the other hand," she said, "they don't have a right to the whole world."
It's hard to say how many students are affected or if the rules are helping to encourage quitting. A 2000 survey of 10,600 college students around the nation showed 10.5 percent of students smoke daily, while 68 percent were nonsmokers, according to the American College Health Association.
A 1997 survey at Saint Rose found 24 percent of students smoked. A 2001 Skidmore survey -- the same year the ban on dorm smoking began -- found 25 percent of students smoked, down from 32 percent two years earlier. Neither school has a more recent survey.
Besides Skidmore, other local colleges that prohibit smoking in dormitories include Siena, Sage, Saint Rose and Union.
Saint Rose Vice President for Student Affairs Dennis McDonald said the policy was instituted five years ago and has become a way of life for most students.
"This was at the request of the student body," he said. "We were getting a lot of complaints."
Today, he said, about 10 students a year are written up for smoking infractions.
At Union College, students are fined after being caught smoking in dorms several times. Fines can range from $50 to $100, said Doug Bazuin, director of residential life.
"From what I can understand, it's been implemented pretty much without incident," he said of the ban.
The Skidmore ban on smoking began after an air-quality survey found a significant difference in certain dorms. The amount of particles associated with cigarettes was found to be higher in the hallways of dorms where smoking was allowed compared with smoke-free dorms.
While no one said the particles were a health hazard for most students, some asthmatic students were having attacks due to minute exposure to smoke. And it meant those who didn't smoke were being exposed to the smells and particles whether they wanted to be or not. In addition, cigarette smoke made it necessary to paint walls and replace rugs more often, officials said.
But nearly all Skidmore student smokers interviewed this week said they still smoke in dorms.
"There are other ways to get people to make good choices without making them be sneaky," said Eliza Lay, a senior who, two years ago, was housed in a nonsmoking floor even though she smoked. She was moved to a smoking floor -- back when such floors still existed -- after she refused to stop smoking.
"The truth is, we're in Saratoga and it's cold in the winter," she said. "People are going to smoke in the dorms."
Moreover, since the school banned the sale of cigarettes on campus, students have started ordering them over the Internet from companies in Europe for as little as $12 a carton. Some even sell them for a profit.
At Skidmore, smoking is part of the culture, and many students even start to smoke here, students said. Indeed, the 2000 edition of The Princeton Review's "Best 331 Colleges" says of Skidmore, "alcohol and smoking are very prevalent."
Pat Oles, Skidmore's dean of student affairs, said he had no illusion that students had completely given up smoking in the dorms. "It's inconsistent," he said. "This year's better than last year."
Some students take drastic steps to mask their habit. Gina Calcagno, a Skidmore senior and residence director of the Jonsson Tower, said last year she met a student who duct-taped over a vent and weather-stripped his entire doorway to prevent smoke from leaking out.
"He had created a vault within his room," she said. "It smelled like an old bowling alley."
But nonsmoking students are becoming more vocal about speaking up when a neighbor is lighting up.
"If someone's smoking on the fourth floor, someone on the fifth floor is going to say, 'There's smoke in my room,' " she said. "It's really pretty easy to tell when people are breaking the rules."