Sunday, December 17, 2017
Education

University of Tampa to ban smoking on nearly all of campus

TAMPA

Starting in August, students, faculty and staffers at the University of Tampa will be allowed to smoke only in four designated areas, each near the edge of campus.

Off-limits, administrators say, will be the rest of the 105-acre campus, including all academic and residential buildings, athletic facilities and fields, parking garages, offices and open spaces.

The change follows four years of surveys, focus groups and lobbying by students with Breathe-Easy University of Tampa.

"It's really going to help the overall health of the campus," said UT junior and public health major Laura Manke, 20, one of the group's leaders.

Last year, a survey found that 72 percent of the UT community supported establishing the smoking zones, and 61 percent expected that becoming a smoke-free campus would improve overall health. More than 1,000 of UT's 7,000 students signed a petition supporting the policy.

Smoking has long been banned in UT's buildings, and smokers currently must stay at least 25 feet from entries and exits.

The smoking zones were established after students and employees put pins on a campus map indicating sites they thought would be best.

"We specifically wanted to have them in areas that were not traffic walk-throughs and away from buildings so it would not get in the ventilation systems," said Gina Firth, the university's associate dean of wellness.

Reaction is mixed.

"You're kidding," said freshman Khaled Al-Birq, 20, when he heard about the change as he smoked outside the Vaughn Center Friday morning.

Al-Birq, who smokes three packs a day, said he would consider changing schools, but it's getting harder to find a smoking-friendly college or university.

At least 11 colleges in Florida have become smoke-free, including the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, the University of Florida and Hillsborough Community College, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation. USF in Tampa has 25 designated smoking areas.

Al-Birq said he at least hoped administrators would rethink the change, especially since already smokers light up outside.

"Maybe we are not affecting people like they think," he said.

But that's not likely. Second-hand smoke can trigger asthma attacks and other health problems, Manke said, so organizers want to minimize exposure to it.

"There are people who have made it clear that they're not happy about the changes, but that's what we expected," she said. "We hope that they will get used to it and realize that we are doing it for the good of their health."

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