Florida colleges ban smoking, even in your car

If you smoke, you may be breathing less easily on college campuses these days.

Looking for the designated smoking area at Florida International University? There is none.

Want to light a cigarette inside your car at the University of Florida? Don't let the cops see you.

Hoping to smoke during your break at Nova Southeastern University? You have six months left until NSU becomes the latest college to go tobacco-free. Come July 1, the covered smoking benches will come down and smoke-free-campus signs will go up.

"Although we'd like people to quit, we're not saying you have to. You just can't smoke here," said Tom Vitucci, NSU's director of campus recreation and leader of the smoke-free effort.

College campuses are becoming less tolerant of smokers, replacing tobacco restrictions with outright bans, even while in your car. Violators face discipline ranging from warnings to expulsion or termination in extreme cases. Most will just be told to extingish their cigarettes, Nova officials said.

Many people welcome the policies, saying they promote health and protect non-smokers. Others see them as overreaching and discriminatory.

"I understand that some people on campus don't like smoke, but they go to clubs and don't seem to have an issue with it," said NSU junior Carin Pool, 30, of Plantation, who was smoking on campus Friday. "It seems a little bit like they're picking on smokers."

Since announcing the forthcoming tobacco ban in November, NSU has been sending notices through email and its Facebook page, offering smoking cessation classes to students and employees.

About 75 percent of students and employees who responded to an NSU survey supported the change, Vitucci said. About 9 percent identified themselves as smokers, he said.

Max Scheiner, 20, of Plantation, is a non-smoker who supports the policy.

"It will mean cleaner air for everyone," he said.

But critics said these policies go beyond the initial intent of protecting people from second-hand smoke

"If you're in your car, you're not even talking about second-hand smoke. You're not affecting anyone else," said George Koodray, assistant director of the Citizens Freedom Alliance, a group that advocates smokers' rights. "This is about trying to stop someone from doing something you don't approve of even when it's legal."

Vitucci said it would send the wrong message if vehicles were excluded from the smoke-free policy.

"We don't want your car to be a safe haven, where you do any activity you want as long as you're in your car," he said.

There are now at least 639 smoke-free campuses in the United States, up from about 400 a year ago, according to the American Nonsmokers Rights Association. There are at least 13 in Florida, including UF, FIU, Miami-Dade College and the University of Central Florida.

More will likely follow suit. Florida Atlantic University restricts smoking to designated spots and plans to discuss possibly going smoke-free in about six months, said Tom Donaudy, FAU's vice president of facilities.

"We think we're doing the right thing by giving consideration to folks who might have been long-term smokers," Donaudy said. " It's a terrible habit to kick, so we want to give them heads-up before we go that way."

James St. Louis, a marketing assistant in NSU's undergraduate admissions office, said he didn't know whether the tobacco ban would cause him to quit. He's tried several times.

"I'll probably be going out to lunch a lot more," he said.


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