Designated smoking area relocated, smokers feel snubbed

Placing designated smoking zones in high traffic areas involuntarily stigmatizes smokers | Kayla Stewart//The Daily Cougar

Placing designated smoking zones in high traffic areas involuntarily stigmatizes smokers as inconsiderate, but they have nowhere else to go. | Kayla Stewart/The Daily Cougar

Smoking: it’s not something that generations before us would have predicted to last as long as it has. It’s incredible, really — anything that’s been labeled as a “cancer stick” would probably be enough to stop most of us from trying it out. Still, in 2013, it’s an integral part of almost 20 percent of adults’ day-to-day routine, according to the Center for Disease Control.

It’s also something that’s being phased out in universities across the nation — in particular, in many universities in Texas.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas enacted a policy in 2012 that made grant money available to universities that ban smoking in buildings that house financed research and in public grounds around those buildings.

This is an agency that has billions of dollars available to put toward university grants, and its offer couldn’t have come at a better time for universities suffering from decreases in federal funding and drops in student enrollment.

With Texas on its way to becoming the national hub for cancer research, it only seems fitting that its institutions ban activities that cause the disease.

On Aug. 31, UH received between $6 and $7 million from CPRIT, because of its recent campus-wide smoking ban.

Unfortunately, for many campus smokers, this news isn’t anything to celebrate.

Sure, it could be argued that this policy will help struggling smokers finally kick the habit. However that isn’t the University’s fight to fight, and at the end of the day, choosing to smoke is just that — a conscious choice made by those who are well aware of the health risks it brings.

Following the University’s ban in 2013, UH added twenty designated smoking areas distributed around the 700-acre campus.

Still, the University made sure to note that these new areas will be available for only the next 12 months, and that UH reserves the right to remove any of these areas after Summer 2014.

Pile on the fact that this means there’s one smoking section every 35 acres, and it’s clear why many students are feeling shafted by the school’s recent policy implementation.

Many of these smoking areas are in some of the campus’s most lively locations. While this may sound like a victory for UH’s smoking community, students cite the overwhelming negatives that come with placing smoking areas in bustling places.

“Last year, we had the perfect area set away from the sidewalks,” said pre-law sophomore Luke Runte. “This fall, without notice, our smoking area had been moved to one of campus’s busiest spots, right where four sidewalks converge outside Cougar Village I. Now, we’re seen as a disturbance to non-smoking students, and there have been a lot of complaints about students walking past us and getting smoke in their eyes.”

Runte expressed frustration about how UH’s smoking community is being perceived through the eyes of fellow students.

“It’s just unfortunate that we didn’t ask for any of this, and now we’re at the receiving end of complaints. It’s not like we can smoke anywhere else nearby, though,” Runte said.

The grounds of Cougar Village I’s smoking area, are covered in a dense layer of disintegrating cigarette butts. Its ashtray is filled to the brim with empty soda bottles, beer cans and Copenhagen canisters.

Basically, it’s a dump — and construction management freshman Julian Provazek cites factors outside UH’s smoking community for the squalor.

“I’ll see students walk by on their way to class and throw their empty trash into our ashtray. They either think that it’s a trashcan, or they just don’t care,” Provazek said.

“It leaves the grass as the only place I can put out my cigarette, and it makes the area a pigsty. People naturally blame the smokers for keeping the area so dirty, but there’s no reason why I’d want to trash the very place I hang out at the most.”

From a different standpoint, these new measures might help to prevent non-smokers from ever picking up that first cigarette, since there won’t be as many environments conducive to the lifestyle. After all, the Center for Disease Control reports that 69 percent of adult smokers wish they could quit.

Computer science freshman Saad Dayala was quick to shoot down that notion.

“Smoking areas develop into social areas — places where people naturally come together and hang out.” Dayala said. “I’ve had friends that have tried to quit smoking, and walking by 10 or 15 of your friends smoking every day makes it near impossible.”

By concentrating the areas where smokers gather, hubs of temptation have effectively been scattered around campus, making it difficult for quitters to pass by without stopping to take a puff with their friends.

The major reason many universities have been focusing more on eliminating smoking compared to other vices, such as drinking alcohol, is the effect smokers have on the surrounding population. After all, there’s no such thing as secondhand blood-alcohol content.

Clearly, those who smoke affect those who don’t smoke, sometimes in life-threatening ways. It’s obvious that certain measures need to be taken to protect those who have made the choice not to smoke. It’s growing more and more doubtful that the University’s current policies are cutting it, though — not just for UH’s smoking population, but for its student population as a whole.

 Senior staff columnist Cara Smith is a communications junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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