Students push to limit smoking
If a student coalition gets its way, smoking cigarettes at a California State University campus could become almost impossible.
The 20-member group wants each of the system's 23 campuses -- including Fresno State -- to keep smoking away from buildings so secondhand smoke doesn't harm others.
As CSU classes begin over the next few weeks, group members will try to get more students behind the movement to change the smoking policy in the nation's largest four-year college system with 389,000 students.
In September, CSU trustees will consider allowing campus leaders to study the smoking policy and decide whether to place additional limits on where smokers can light up on school grounds.
Giselle Garcia already is crossing her fingers.
The Fresno State graduate student must walk through a thick cloud of cigarette smoke every time she wants to get to the campus' food court for lunch or a snack.
"Every person has a right to have a healthy life," said the 24-year-old member of the group called Campus Organized and Unified for Good Health, or COUGH. "I believe they're taking away my right."
Specifically, members of the 3-month-old group want leaders to push smokers farther than the current 5-foot limit from building entrances so secondhand smoke doesn't waft inside.
They're asking for at least a 20-foot distance. Group spokesman Joseph Hurley, 22, of Sacramento State, said studies show that is far enough to reduce the amount of secondhand smoke that makes it into buildings.
Group members say they want the restrictions taken even further over the next few years, with smoking bans sweeping every public college and university in the state.
"We're not trying to punish smokers," Hurley said, adding that the movement is designed to help those who don't smoke, but are exposed to secondhand smoke and develop such problems as heart and lung diseases.
Experts say that up to 53,000 Americans die each year from diseases related to secondhand smoke, making it the third-leading cause of preventable death behind smoking and alcohol use.
California is one of the leading states to put limits on smokers by passing laws restricting smoking in buildings such as workplaces, restaurants and bars.
Members of the CSU group point to statistics that indicate cigarette use among college students climbed in the past decade and that campuses should be treated like any other building or workplace.
Reports from the Harvard School of Public Health show the rate of college students who smoke at least once a day has climbed from about 22% a decade ago to almost 29% two years ago.
CSU leaders discussed changing the smoking policy a few years ago, but it was put on hold until COUGH members raised the issue at a trustee meeting in May, officials said.
CSU Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Jackie McClain will take the request to trustees during their regularly scheduled two-day meeting Sept. 17-18 in Long Beach.
If approved, she said leaders at each campus -- including Bakersfield and Stanislaus -- could leave the policy as is or craft a new regulation specific to their needs.
Presidents could decide to ban smoking at their campuses altogether, but that would require the blessing of employee unions because some employees may need to leave campus to smoke.
Fresno State President John Welty said that if the proposal is approved, a team of campus decision makers will study whether changes are needed at the 20,000-student school.
COUGH started in April after students at several college campuses tried to impose changes at their schools without much luck.
So far, group members represent eight CSU schools: Chico, Fresno, Hayward, Long Beach, Northridge, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose.