Huddled under his black umbrella as he stood next to an ashtray on Lower Sproul Plaza last Monday, UC Berkeley senior Patrick Gellar took a long drag on his fifth cigarette of the day.
Gellar began smoking at community college, where he said “everyone smoked.” Now, he smokes 10 to 20 cigarettes each day, often while on campus in between classes. Although he said he knows the harmful effects of smoking and will quit eventually, Gellar is not yet ready to give it up.
But over the next two years, students like Gellar will have to learn to take their smoking habits elsewhere as the University of California joins almost 600 college campuses across the country in becoming smoke-free.
The shift to smoke-free
Following a smoke-free policy proposal submitted in October by a subcommittee of the university’s systemwide wellness group, UC President Mark Yudof requested in a letter to UC chancellors dated Jan. 9 that each campus form its own committee to implement a smoke-free policy over the next two years “to demonstrate leadership in reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.”
Kim LaPean, communications manager at the Tang Center, said there is “absolutely no movement yet” to form a committee at UC Berkeley.
UC faculty members, staff members and students already smoke less than the state and national averages. Only 9.9 percent of UC employees smoke — less than the 11.9 percent state average and the 19.6 percent national average, according to the proposal.
Furthermore, the proposal said it envisions a smooth transition, since 7.9 percent of UC students had smoked within 30 days of a 2010 study compared to 16 percent of college students nationwide. The proposal also said no UC San Diego students smoke more than 10 cigarettes per day.
Although Yudof’s letter acknowledges that each campus will need to develop its own smoke-free policy, he also lists key elements that must be included in all policies, including the purview of the policy, the prohibition of the sale and advertisement of tobacco products in university buildings and a common definition of smoke-free — one that includes smokeless tobacco products and unregulated nicotine products such as e-cigarettes.
The shift to smoke-free policies at all UC campuses will extend to all UC-owned and leased facilities, according to Yudof’s letter.
All five UC medical centers already have smoke-free policies in place and the remaining UC locations have smoking policies prohibiting smoking within 20 to 25 feet of buildings, according to the proposal.
Once each campus implements its new policy over the next two years, Yudof said in his letter that the primary enforcement strategy should be educational, with an emphasis on cessation resources.
The subcommittee proposal also said the university has the option of citing and charging fees for policy violations, although UCPD Lt. Eric Tejada said in an email that UCPD did not issue any citations at UC Berkeley for violations of the current smoking policy within the past year.
“More people will be successful in quitting smoking,” said Katharine Hammond, professor of environmental health sciences at UC Berkeley and a key player in changing smoking policies at the national and international levels. “And there’ll be those — they’ll be very difficult to count — but those who don’t start smoking.”
Hammond said it is harder for people to quit smoking when others are smoking around them, adding that very few people start smoking over age 25.
An inevitable change
Gellar said the policy will be “inconvenient” for smokers who may have to consider the policy when planning their schedules each semester.
However, plenty of UC Berkeley students support the shift to a tobacco-free campus, including senior Trit Garg, who founded the student organization TobaccNO in 2009.
“The concern that I think most students share, including me, is the secondhand smoke,” Garg said. “We’re subject to secondhand smoke whether we like it or not … Tobacco is a neglected thing and we sort of take for granted that it exists.”
Garg was instrumental in changing the campus residence hall policy in 2010 to create designated smoking areas outside of the halls. However, he and health experts agree that an allowable smoking zone is not strict enough.
According to Hammond, concentrations of toxins are extremely high in designated smoking areas, making them even more dangerous for smokers and those who may have to clean the spaces. Because of infiltration, these toxins also spread beyond the designated smoking areas and affect nonsmokers.
“The molecules are not very obedient,” Hammond said. “They just don’t understand the no-smoking lines and they cross them.”
Yet not everyone is convinced the policy will be very effective.
“I don’t think it’ll get the results they want… unless they ramp up security, which would be a waste of money since the university already has problems,” Gellar said.
Gellar is not entirely opposed to the policy change — he said he understands the motivation behind it and does not want to harm anyone by smoking — especially because he said it is not too demanding for smokers to leave campus before lighting up.
Despite differing views on the policy, smokers and nonsmokers alike agreed that given a national trend of increased smoking bans, the shift to smoke-free campuses was inevitable.
“It’s really a natural step for the UC system,” Garg said. “We were lagging behind.”