University of California students reflect on proposed smoking bans

07/10/2012 12:00 AM

07/09/2012 10:54 PM

It's hard to find people smoking on the UC Davis campus these days. On a recent visit during summer recess, nobody was smoking in the quads or social areas.

According to a recent survey, more than 90 percent of students at UC Davis are nonsmokers.

When asked their reaction to University of California President Mark Yudof's quest to make all UC campuses smoke-free by the end of 2013, the students shrugged.

"I honestly don't know why people are bothering so much," said Treva Kennedy, 22, a senior linguistics major at UC Davis. "I don't smoke, and I don't like it. That's why it should be kept away from buildings."

"But it's a personal habit, and a ban won't break an addiction," she said.

A number of students, however, agreed that the issue becomes more complicated for international students who are accustomed to cultures where there is less of a stigma attached to being a smoker, and, as some suggest, where smoking is still considered cool, as it once was in the United States before successful anti-smoking campaigns.

"It's extremely common to see at least three to four students outside the dorms alone smoking," said Adam Khan, a reporter for the Aggie, the UC Davis campus newspaper.

"It seems to be more prevalent in the international community and outside the international dorm. Those who smoke don't stick to the 25-foot rule (banning smoking from a building). In my (international) dorm especially, students smoke right outside the front door."

Some students questioned why smoking outside needed to be further regulated.

"Why shouldn't you be able to smoke if you are far enough away from someone else?" asked Sebastian Reyes, a Costa Rican student working toward a doctorate in genetics. "Rules are different where many international kids come from. But I guess if you're here you have to follow these rules."

Khrisha Shah, an Indian student at UC Berkeley, describes smoking as more of an international student habit on her UC campus. "For the Americans I knew who smoked, it was more while drinking or socializing."

David McCourt, a visiting lecturer at UC Davis' political science department, is from Great Britain. "People here just don't smoke. It's so rare, in comparison to where I'm from. I was just in Italy, where people smoke everywhere. I can imagine that it affects students from Latin America and Europe," he said.

The San Jose Mercury News reported this year that a survey of smoking at UC Davis found that 8 percent of students smoke, and 10 percent of faculty. The national average rate of all smokers is 19 percent.

Up until now, smoking, which is legal in the state of California at age 18, has been allowed at UC campuses in designated areas that are more than 20 feet away from buildings (at varying distances, depending on the campus), to comply with California smoking regulations.

In the California State University system, only the Fullerton campus has committed to be smoke-free by 2013.

Kimberly Nava, director of news services at California State University, Sacramento, said the campus is "definitely moving in the direction of making the campus smoke-free."

Currently, none of the 10 University of California campuses is smoke-free. Yudof raised the issue in January in a letter to the chancellors of each UC campus.

"As a national leader in healthcare and environmental practices, the University of California is ready to demonstrate leadership in reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke by creating a smoke­free environment on all of our campuses," he wrote.

Yudof said all the UC medical centers, including UC Davis Medical Center, are smoke-free. Nationally, he said, 586 university campuses are smoke-free.

Yudof defined "smoke-free" to mean the prohibition – in indoor and outdoor spaces – of smoking, using smokeless tobacco products and unregulated nicotine products.

Brooke Converse, a UC spokesperson, said the ban intends to be educational and not punitive. "We want to discourage smoking to promote healthy habits."

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