Nick Wilson walks down the T. Anne Cleary Walkway every day on his way to class smoking a cigarette and nobody tells him not to, despite the fact that it’s illegal.
Under the Iowa Smokefree Air Act, which went into effect July 1, 2008, smoking is prohibited inside campus buildings and within 25 feet outside of a campus building. Also, those who smoke outside can only smoke adjacent to public streets.
With the second anniversary approaching of the Iowa State Legislature enacting the Iowa Smokefree Air Act banning smoking in certain areas, students are seeing little more enforcement of the ban than they did when it went into effect.
“It’s a stupid ban in the first place,” said Wilson, a 19-year-old sophomore from Arlington Heights, Ill. “I can’t think of one person that’s been ticketed since it went into effect.”
Campus Police Policy
Lt. H.W. Lang of the University Department of Public Safety said the policy of the department hasn’t changed much since the ban went into effect.
“When the ban first started, our policy was more about educating the public rather than fining them,” said Lang. “Now we will issue citations, but it’s on a case by case basis.”
According to Lang, the department issues citations on a case by case basis because some of the people violating the law are from out of state visiting students at the UI and aren’t familiar with the laws. In such cases, those violating the law will be instructed on where they can and cannot smoke, said Lang.
In most cases where students violate the law, they are either instructed to move to a spot not prohibited by the ban or issued a warning, said Lang. However, multiple warnings could result in a student being issued a citation.
Lang noted that the area where the most citations have been issued was the parking ramps at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. No smoking is permitted in any of the four parking ramps or along Hawkins Drive in front of the hospital under the ban.
Some students are cynical about the enforcement of the ban. One student, Michael Dale-Stein, a 21-year-old senior from Edina, Minn., said there was no reason for him to believe the ban would ever be successful and should be scrapped.
“It’s not enforced to the point that anybody will conform to the law,” said Dale-Stein. “The subjectivities of law enforcement issuing citations or warnings needs to be addressed.”
He also believes that smoking has not decreased on campus since the ban went into effect and that the campus will never be smoke-free.
“The only way the campus could possibly become smoke-free is if cigarettes are federally outlawed,” said Dale-Stein. “As college students, we feel impervious to the dangers of deadly activities such as smoking; therefore, there’s no way college students will nix the habit.”
Dale-Stein said the highest concentration of smokers on campus can be found on the north side of the Main Library and by the English-Philosophy Building. His hypothesis is that areas of high stress like the Main Library or parking ramps at the UI Hospitals and Clinics harbor greater numbers of smokers.
On the other hand, another UI student, Derek Wilson, said that he thinks the ban is working. He said that he believes he has seen a decrease in the amount of smokers on campus since the ban went into effect.
“I don’t see as many people smoking on campus, so it must be doing something,” said Wilson, a 21-year-old engineering major from Tama, Iowa.
Wilson also said that since people have to move away from campus buildings, he has noticed a reduction in the amount of cigarette butts on the ground near buildings.
“I see a lot more people actually throwing their cigarettes into the trash since they’re smoking near them,” said Wilson. “It’s nice because the campus looks a lot better and it’s better for the environment.”
Iowa City Police Policy
The Iowa City Police Department has seen very few complaints about violations of the ban and issued no citations since the ban went into effect, according to Sgt. Troy Kelsay.
Kelsay also emphasized that the Iowa City ordinance is different from the University’s ordinance. An example is people who smoke in their car while inside an Iowa City parking ramp cannot be ticketed, but if they smoke inside their car in a University parking ramp, they can be ticketed, he said.
The difference exists because the Iowa City Police Department views the Iowa City parking ramps as an extension of a public street, and the rules of privacy inside a car on a public street apply inside the parking ramp, said Kelsay.
As for bars and restaurants, there have been very few complaints, said Kelsay. When complaints were made to the police, the bar or restaurant owner was contacted and told to deal with it, he said.
“We’re not saying you can’t smoke in Iowa City, just not in a select few areas,” said Kelsay. “The state says you can’t smoke in bars and restaurants, but the University is saying you can’t smoke anywhere.”