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U-M residence halls to be smoke-free by fall 2003

Smoking in any U-M residence hall will become a thing of the past as of the start of fall term 2003.

The Division of Student Affairs announced last week that it will provide a completely smoke-free environment throughout its residence hall system, beginning with the 2003—04 academic year.
Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services

With this new policy, U-M will join most other Big Ten institutions in banning smoking from its residence halls. The policy will affect the last 470 smoking-permitted rooms from among the total of more than 6,000. There has been no smoking permitted in any public space in residence halls since 1994.

"We are very pleased to be taking this important step in enhancing overall public health in our residence halls and reduce the chances that U-M students will begin smoking after their arrival on campus," says E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs.

The new policy was developed by a task force composed of representatives from University Housing, University Health Service and the Residence Halls Association (RHA), the student government for those who live in University residence halls. The RHA Assembly voted in November to endorse the elimination of any smoking-permitted spaces. Another working group is completing plans for implementing the no-smoking policy in the fall.

While the research and data identifying nicotine and smoking as addictive and harmful to those who smoke has been well-defined for many years, new research increasingly has shown the risks of exposure to secondhand smoke as a significant public health concern. In
1999 the U-M Medical Center became an entirely smoke-free environment, inside and outside, in recognition of these concerns and as a means to increase awareness of the degree to which smoking adversely influences health care and recovery.

Research published by the Harvard School of Public Health in 2001 concluded that college students are 40 percent less likely to take up smoking if they live in smoke-free residence halls. Further, older ventilation systems in U-M residence halls that can allow smoke to circulate from smoking areas into non-smoking rooms have presented problems for residents with asthma or other respiratory conditions and for residents who want to avoid any exposure to secondhand smoke. The no-smoking policy will reduce the risk of fire and the exposure to smoke of University Housing staff who work in smoking-permitted areas.

In 1994, the state of Michigan adopted a no-smoking standard in all public buildings, including campus buildings of public universities, but student residence hall rooms were exempted. Nonetheless, University Housing has decreased the number of spaces available to smokers steadily, and this year less than 5 percent of the total permit smoking. Other campuses similar to Michigan that have moved to smoke-free environments generally report that their transition to a smoke-free environment has proceeded smoothly.

During RHA discussions leading to its resolution to support a smoke-free residence hall environment, some students expressed concerns about the new policy. Opposition to the change centered on the legality of smoking for students over the age of 18 and the belief that students should be left with a choice to smoke in their homes.

"We know that some students come to campus as smokers, and we want to be available to them in discontinuing their cigarette use," says Robert Winfield, director, University Health Service. "Both our Health Education and clinical staff are prepared to assist students in this regard. In addition, we have contracted with a Web-based individualized tobacco cessation program to supplement these efforts."

University Housing and Health Service will collaborate on promotion of these and similar programs to residents.

As of Sept. 1, 2003, the only remaining indoor location on campus that will permit smoking will be a small number of Family Housing apartments on North Campus. At present, 242 of the 1,483 total Family Housing units (16 percent) permit smoking.

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