Seven months after the on-campus smoking ban went into effect, the designated smoking areas continue to be controversial, and RHA officials said the key to greater effectiveness might be clearer information.
The Residence Hall Association senate passed a bill Dec. 10 calling for clearer signage and better boundary definition for the designated areas. Student complaints about the smoking area outside McKeldin Library, which some said wasn’t well-defined enough, spurred the legislation.
“A lot of North Hill residents had complained about when they’re walking to and from their classes, they have to pass by McKeldin, which is right by the smoking area,” said North Hill representative Ashley Feng, the bill’s author.
Feng’s bill, which passed unanimously, calls for university officials to investigate resident concerns and update the smoking areas. Feng said initial ideas included adding more urns to cut down on the number of cigarette butts, as well as more clearly defining the areas with flowers, plants, benches and lighting.
Mike Lichtenberg, RHA’s finance officer, said the association has had conversations with administration and financial officials about the smoking area but would now like to see action from the university.
“We discussed various ideas and solutions and expressed a mutual interest in improving the area,” Lichtenberg said.
The designated smoking areas have proved controversial for the university and the RHA. Lichtenberg said the RHA Senate discussed several ideas and provisions when evaluating the bill, such as moving the McKeldin smoking area to a different, less heavily trafficked side of the building, as several students had requested. Many of those ideas, including moving the area, were dropped, however, and deemed impractical at that point in the smoking ban’s implementation.
“That was the only thing we felt was entirely out of the question,” he said.
Punishing students more heavily isn’t an option either, said RHA president Omer Kaufman. Rather, the university should focus on better educating students about the ban, he said.
The original University Senate bill defining the ban recommends creating “a smoke-free campus identity campaign,” which should include adequate signage around the campus to inform and educate people about “Smoke-Free UMD,” Kaufman said. But he noted that he was disappointed with the lack of information last semester about exactly where smokers can and can’t light up and said in the bill’s current state, visiting staff or faculty and commuter students might not be aware of the policy change.
“They haven’t been good at advertising at all,” Kaufman said.
Sophomore psychology major Dan Russo said he likes not having to walk behind smokers and worry about getting a “face full of smoke” anymore, but so far does not think the ban has been well enforced.
“I’ve still seen people smoking outside the smoking areas,” said Russo.
Lichtenberg said part of the lack of enforcement might be because the first semester was considered sort of a trial run, in which students could get acquainted with the ban and learn more about it, but he is glad to see blocks could be set up around the McKeldin smoking area to denote the boundaries.
“Hopefully, this semester we will see a push in the information campaign and the completion of the smoking area,” Lichtenberg said.
For now, the RHA will focus its efforts on awareness, Kaufman said, because until those concerns are met, the university can’t move to the next step: enforcement.