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OSU students blow smoke in face of law, sign

Mitch Andrews / Lantern photographer

A sign placed near the Science and Engineering Library’s main entrance tells smokers that lighting up is prohibited within 25 feet of the building. But some say cigarette smoke continues to linger near the library’s front doors.

“Smoking has been more of an issue at SEL than other library locations,” said Larry Allen, communications coordinator for university libraries.

In November 2006, Ohio voters approved an indoor smoking ban, making Ohio the first Midwestern state and the first tobacco-growing state to enact such a ban, according to the Ohio Department of Health’s website.

The ODH estimates there are about 280,000 public places and places of employment that the ban covers.

University policy, in agreement with Ohio law, stipulates that smoking is prohibited within 25 feet of doors, windows and ventilation systems on campus. Conspicuous signs outlining the law are required to be placed on OSU buildings, but library officials said the SEL needed a larger-than-usual sign as an extra reminder of the smoke-free policy.

“We needed to advertise the policy more clearly because we noticed a trend in people smoking too close to the building,” said Mike Vanecko, the building coordinator of SEL. “So we got a bigger sign. We hope it makes people more aware of the policy.”

The sign was placed in front of the main doors on Dec. 10, Vanecko said.

The SEL sign instructs individuals to report smoking violations by calling the Ohio smoke-free enforcement line. An automated voice system greets anyone who calls the line.

“An operator will be with you momentarily,” the voice says. “In order to handle your complaint properly, please have the following information available: the nature of the violation, the business name or individual involved, with a complete address including zip code and county location, and the date and time of the incident.”

Jen House, spokeswoman for the ODH, said the enforcement line wasn’t designed as an initiative to police individual smokers. Rather, the main focus is to protect individuals at public locations or workplaces from secondhand smoke.

“We generally only do inspections on locations, not individuals. The law is complaint-based, so we’re not proactively going out and doing investigations. If we get a complaint from the enforcement line about a location, we have 30 days to investigate,” House said. “The law was designed to protect people from harmful chemicals in secondhand smoke.”

If an individual or business is reported for violating the smoking ban, the first penalty is a warning letter from the ODH. Subsequent violations incur penalty fines. Individuals could pay $100 for repeated violations and businesses could pay more than $2,500.

Since May 2007, the ODH said about 54,000 complaints from Ohio have been called into the enforcement line.

House said ODH has one employee on staff that investigates smoking complaints. The department often relies on local health departments to execute investigations.

Money accumulated from smoking ban fines are split between the ODH and a local health department, if the local department contributed to an investigation that led to a fine.

Vanecko said there have been at least two instances in which the SEL was investigated for smoking ban complaints since 2007. He was unable to confirm if fines were issued to the university.

Britny Ylisaari, a second-year in civil engineering, has worked as a student assistant at SEL since October. While working, she’s heard complaints about smokers near the SEL entrance.

“Professors and students have come in complaining before,” Ylisaari said. “They say something like, ‘There’s people smoking out there too close to the doors.’ And then I say: ‘Well, sorry, there’s nothing I can really do about it.'”

Ylisaari said she’s seen a decrease in smoking since the sign was placed over winter break.

“Coming into work, I used to see people smoking by the front entrance all the time. I think it’s still an issue but I don’t think it’s as bad now with the notice out there,” she said. “Maybe the sign actually impacts people”.

Some students said the SEL sign has little impact on where they choose to smoke.

“I don’t care what the sign says, if I’m stressed I can smoke here,” said Jinhee Cho, a third-year in finance. “I don’t pay attention to other signs saying I can’t (smoke). I won’t pay attention to this one.”

Adam Heichel, a third-year in social work, said it’s more convenient to smoke under the SEL’s overhang area, especially during winter months. Smoking near the library entrance allows smokers to meet other smokers and strike up a conversation, Heichel said.

“You can meet new people. Honestly, it becomes like a close-knit group some nights,” Heichel said.

However, Ben Williams, a fourth-year in political science, said he’d like to see the smoking ban better enforced on campus.

“I think the sign is a noble attempt, but there should be more. Students shouldn’t have to be bombarded by someone else’s smoke anywhere on this campus,” Williams said.

Big Ten universities that have smoke-free campuses include Purdue, Penn State, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation website.

In Ohio, eight institutions have smoke-free campuses, including Miami and Youngstown State.

President E. Gordon Gee told The Lantern in April that he thought smoking should be eliminated on campus.

“A smoke free campus is not at the top of my priority list, but if someone came to me with a proposal and we could make that happen quickly, I would be the first in line,” Gee said.

Undergraduate Admissions and First Year Experience employs University Ambassadors that provide campus tours for prospective OSU students and guests. Ebony Smith, a program coordinator in UAFYE, said the standard OSU tour route travels under the SEL overhang area.

UAFYE partners with Facilities Operations and Development to ensure OSU’s campus is safe and accessible to those that go on tours.

“In previous years, there have been complaints about cleanliness on campus, including but not limited to smoking debris,” Smith said in an e-mail. “It is an ongoing process to keep campus clean. Everyone can do their part to help our campus look great for future Buckeyes.”

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