Why lighting up may soon be illegal at NIU

By Keith Hernandez

A bill awaiting a final vote in May from the Illinois Senate would ban the smoking of tobacco at the state’s public universities and community colleges.

If passed, SB2202, or the Smoke-Free Campus Act, will prohibit smoking outside all buildings and on the grounds and parking lots of NIU, as well as all other Illinois public university campuses, effective July 1.

NIU’s policy prohibits smoking within 15 feet of all entrances, exits, windows and ventilation intakes, according to a memorandum posted Dec. 20, 2007, on the university’s website.

Senator Terry Link, D-Waukegan, said he introduced the legislation to reduce the amount of people who smoke or who are likely to start smoking.

“Most young people start in college; they don’t have mom and dad looking over their shoulders,” Link said. “This might slow them down from starting.”

Link filed the bill Feb. 15, 2013, and it passed the Senate and arrived at the House of Representatives May 2. The House then passed the bill April 2, after adding an amendment, giving the Senate the final decision to concur in late May 2014.

Dave Scharenberg, chair of the Campus Security and Environmental Quality Committee, said the committee is looking into how other campuses are implementing 100 percent smoke-free policies, but declined to comment further because the committee is not a decision-making body.

Paul Palian, director of media and public relations, said the university will not take action or make decisions unless the anti-smoking bill becomes law.

“It’s too early to talk about hypotheticals,” Palian said. “We are following the legislation closely down in Springfield and will be prepared to comply with whatever provisions are set forth by law if it changes or stays the same.”

It will be the responsibility of the university to decide the course of disciplinary action against those who violate the act.

University Council member Anthony Roberts, junior biomedical engineering major, said enforcing the proposed mandates may prove difficult for universities.

“Limiting the restrictions of the legislation could make it much more enforceable; however, if the consequences are properly meted out to offenders, it would go a long way to maintaining NIU as a smoke-free campus,” Roberts said. “It will definitely take some time for everyone to get used to.”

Health Services physician Dr. Brian LaMere said many smokers do not realize the harm they do to others through secondhand smoke.

“When I breathe in somebody else’s cigarette smoke, I’m getting the same toxic chemicals and carcinogens as they are,” LaMere said. “I think it would be pretty arrogant of me to suggest that everybody that smokes could care less about anybody around them. I think it’s more of an educational issue.”

The possibility of a campus-wide smoking ban does not sit well with junior history major Reid Wicklein, who fears becoming ostracized.

“A lot of people smoke and everyone wants to turn it into [a] big deal and make them into criminals now,” Wicklein said.

Other smokers, like Shaun McCabe, junior political science major, are uncertain the bill would deter them.

“It may stop me from smoking; it may not,” McCabe said. “We’ll see when it gets implemented.”