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BU students consider tough smoking limits

By Nicole Mallia
Globe Correspondent / October 14, 2011

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Tired of wading through smoke en route to classes, Boston University student leaders are pushing for a crackdown on smoking outside of campus buildings.

If the campaign is successful, smokers will no longer be permitted to light up where they want, such as in heavily trafficked areas like the “smokers’ benches’’ outside the 18-story freshman dorm, Warren Towers. Instead, smokers will be relegated to designated smoking spots.

Student leaders, who began debating the idea last month, hope by the end of the school year to win the administration’s approval for the partial ban on campus smoking.

Nationally, at least 586 colleges and universities have banned smoking entirely on their campuses in the past several years, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation in Berkeley, Calif. Eight Massachusetts schools, a mix of community colleges and four-year schools, including the University of Massachusetts Amherst, are on the foundation’s list.

“Personally, I would really like it,’’ said Pam Rerko, a 21-year-old BU senior from Lakewood, Ohio. “It’s kind of obnoxious that people hang around and smoke right as you’re about to walk into a building.’’

Other students question whether the move would infringe on students’ rights.

Smoking is already banned from public buildings in the state, including bars and restaurants, and a Boston law prohibits smoking on patios outside those businesses. But the laws do not cover what smokers can do on sidewalks or elsewhere on campus.

BU’s student body president, Howard Male, introduced the smoking ban in September. During a subsequent meeting this month, members of the Student Senate said banning all smoking outside would be too restrictive and hard to enforce. They say they are trying to balance students’ rights vs. the right of others to breathe clean air.

“BU shouldn’t want to ban smoking because they don’t want to act like our parents - telling us what we can and can’t do,’’ said junior Kimmy Hammett, 20, a Student Senate member from Coatesville, Pa.

Instead, the Student Union hopes to persuade the college administration to designate smoking areas located away from doors and sidewalks.

While students agree that a ban would benefit nonsmokers, many - whether they light up or not - believe it would impede the rights of smokers.

“I wish that they could ban smoking, because I hate breathing in smoke while walking to class,’’ said Annie Frantel, 19, a sophomore from Canandaigua, N.Y. “But then you’re encroaching upon [smokers’] rights.’’

Frantel said she did not believe the school could say, “You can’t smoke in the middle of Boston on the sidewalk.’’

Several students smoking by Warren Towers scoffed at the proposal, saying passersby who do not like inhaling secondhand smoke can just walk away.

If BU imposes more restrictions, though, one smoker said she would heed the new rules.

“The biggest thing is that there’s no ashtrays anywhere,’’ said Emily Overholt , a freshman from Paradise Valley, Ariz. “If you put an ashtray somewhere, people will smoke there.’’

The unofficial smoking spot at Warren Towers, Overholt added, can be unsightly. She pointed to the cigarette butts on the ground.

The next step for the Student Union is to pass a resolution restricting smoking, a symbolic move that could urge administrators to act. The proposal would have to pass through administrative committees before receiving the BU president’s approval.

The biggest issue would be enforcement, and it is unclear what the penalty would be if the ban is eventually adopted. Signs around campus that warn BU students not to smoke in front of buildings - such as the much-traversed entrance to Mugar Memorial Library - go largely ignored.

“How strictly do we want to enforce this?’’ said Kenneth Elmore, BU’s dean of students. “Do we want the police to walk around and start yanking people out?’’

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.