Ole Miss enforces tobacco-use zones, issues warnings

OXFORD – Ole Miss has one word for smokers who don’t confine their habit to designated areas: “Fine.”
Since campus buildings were made off-limits to tobacco in the 1990s, tobacco users at the University of Mississippi had often congregated just outside doorways.
Two years ago, the university designated some 30 tobacco-use areas to better contain litter and to lessen the chances of nonsmokers being subjected to tobacco fumes. University officials say because no penalty was attached, smokers continue to puff away near buildings and other areas of heavy pedestrian traffic.
Starting last Wednesday, university police officers began handing out warnings to those caught smoking outside of permitted areas. On April 15, they’ll start issuing citations, each of which can cost $25.
“We’ve learned the hard way that some individuals will not comply without an enforcement mechanism in place,” said Donna Gurley, associate university attorney. “On the other hand, we hope to make compliance easier by adding some designated areas.”
Reactions have been mixed among both smokers and nonsmokers.
Alan, a sophomore from New Orleans, paced back and forth with a cigarette within a few feet of the John D. Williams Library’s west entrance with its “NO SMOKING” signs – each of which bear numerous cigarette burns. When asked how he felt about the designated-smoking-area rule, he asked, “Where are the designated areas?”
“Even with the tickets, people are going to find their way around it, just like they find their way around with alcohol,” he said.
Mona Simpson, an administrative coordinator in the Dean of Libraries office, said she smokes but never on campus.
“I think if they’re going to have a smoking policy, they should enforce it,” she said. “As you see from the cigarette butts, it’s not working. It’s a really pretty campus, and people should have more respect.”
“I think it’s a ridiculous policy, said Mary Thurlkill, an assistant professor of philosophy and religion at Ole Miss who identified herself as a non-smoker. “Most universities handle the problem of lots smoke around entryways by posting signs saying, ‘Don’t smoke within 50 feet of the building.’ Having designated areas is ridiculous.”
Vrachi Mann, a graduate student from Delhi, India, said, “I don’t smoke, and I think the policy is good.”
Peyton Whitty, a freshman from Jackson, also a nonsmoker, said enforcement “allows people to walk around without having to have secondhand smoke. Around the dorms, they hover around there, and you have to walk through a huge cloud.”
University officials say the new enforcement measures are designed to protect nonsmokers, not to harass smokers.
“There are no known safe levels of secondhand smoke,” said Tom Lombardo, Ole Miss associate professor of psychology and director of the ACT Now Tobacco Quit Program. “Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can almost certainly increase health risks, particularly in susceptible people. For a sensitive asthmatic or an angina patient, even a brief exposure to smoke could trigger an attack.”
Since the beginning of the tobacco-use-area policy, several new areas have been added, bringing the total to 38.

Errol Castens/Daily Journal