October 24, 2003

Halt, Smoker! — Step Away From the Building

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As part of Cornell’s policy changes made to conform to the New York State Anti-Smoking Law that went into effect last summer, smokers must stand at least 25 feet away from all building entrances on campus to provide “smoke-free access.” But as the Ithaca winter starts to engulf Cornell, smokers are beginning to feel the effect of the rule.

The law prohibits the smoking of any substance containing tobacco in the workplace and virtually all indoor environments such as bars, restaurants and public spaces throughout the state.

Only a few minor changes in Cornell’s policy had to be made since the University’s previous regulations already restricted smoking in almost all indoor areas on campus. Now, smoking is also prohibited in the bar located within the Helen Newman bowling alley, all University-owned or -controlled vehicles and all indoor campus locations that previously satisfied “appropriate ventilation” requirements.

But the 25-foot rule is affecting students the most of all the changes.

“The 25-foot distance will be enforced as necessary to ensure that our buildings are accessible to our faculty, staff, students and visitors, without them having to walk through smoke at the entrance to the building,” said Andy Garcia-Rivera, director of Environmental Health and Safety.

People’s reactions to the new policy changes vary. According to Cornell Law School facilities manager Michael Pado, only two staff members have complained to him about the inconvenience of the new rules. Pado even received positive feedback from two different students who were appreciative of the smoke-free environment.

“It’s pretty odd that there was so little commotion after [the smoking laws] became stricter,” Pado said. “It has been a smooth changeover.”

Cold Complaints

As the weather worsens, however, smoking 25 feet away from entrances is going to become increasingly burdensome to smokers. Facilities managers such as Pado are expecting to receive more complaints as the winter progresses.

“Staff members have warned me about the rule before, but most of the time I can smoke near an entrance without a problem,” said Sean Lyons ’07.

Lyons agreed that it will be much harder to abide by the rule when it starts to snow.

“When the weather gets bad, it’s going to be a pain to stand 25 feet away from a building,” he said.

Some students smoking much less than 25 feet from the Statler Hotel entrance were not even aware that there was a policy change. They haven’t had a problem smoking by entrances all semester, one student said.

There was more commotion at the Helen Newman bowling alley, however, where both positive and negative reactions were much more apparent. Bowling instructor Richard Wallding said that an adult bowling league, which meets weekly at Helen Newman Hall, has experienced significant decline in participants since the new smoking law went into effect.

“We lost about six to eight bowlers,” he said.

On the other hand, parents of young children are thrilled about the new restrictions.

“With the old laws, parents who planned parties here for their children were very dissatisfied,” Wallding said.

Now the staff at Helen Newman is consistently getting positive feedback from parents.

Enforcement of these changes has been relatively firm. The facilities manager for each department on campus is responsible for getting the word out about the new restrictions, either by hanging signs on doors or having other faculty members enforce the policy directly. Resident advisors have been assigned to enforce the policy in and around their residence halls. According to Cynthia Gruman, public health sanitarian at the Tompkins County Health Department, the law is enforced through complaints. Gruman said that the department has received 10 complaints against seven facilities in the county since July.

“The health department does not actively patrol facilities for compliance, but they will visit facilities when a second or subsequent complaint is received,” she said.

Enforcement, Garcia-Rivera said, is on a case-by-case basis and in response to complaints.

“We are not actively looking for violations to the policy,” he said. “The expectation is that members of our University community will do the right thing and abide by the policy.”

Although some people fail to comply with the smoke-free access rule, the new policy gives nonsmokers a legal basis for complaints. If nonsmokers feel strongly about avoiding secondhand smoke, they now have both campus policy and New York State law to back up their position.

“I’m happy I can walk into the dorms without having to smell smoke anymore,” said Isadora Rothstein ’07. “If people want to smoke, that’s fine, but it’s better now that we don’t have to breathe it in.”

Archived article by Missy Kurzweil