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UIC to go tobacco-free this summer

  • Grassy courtyard of a dorm on the campus of UIC.
Grassy courtyard of a dorm on the campus of UIC. (JOHN HANDLEY / )
April 16, 2013|By Erin Vogel @eringejuice | RedEye

Students, faculty and other employees of the University of Illinois at Chicago will have to kiss their tobacco products--and their electronic cigarettes--goodbye this summer thanks to a new tobacco-free campus policy that will go into effect July 1.

The policy bans all form of tobacco including cigars, pipes, smokeless tobacco products and electronic cigarettes. Vice chancellor for administrative services Mark Donovan said the decision to ban electronic cigarettes as well arose from research from the American Lung Association and other outside groups that found e-cigs to still have some negative health effects.

The university originally created a Smoke-Free Campus Implementation Committee and several other related subcommittees in April to move UIC toward the adoption of a smoke-free campus policy, but research and discussion on the subject led the groups to agree that a tobacco ban sent a more distinct message about the university's desire to promote a healthy campus.

"We just thought, 'If we're going to do it, we might as well make UIC both tobacco- and smoke-free and make the university as healthy as possible," said committee member and third-year medical student John Byun, 27.

The university's medical campus also played a significant role in UIC's decision to change its smoking policies.

Lori Wilken, director of the University of Illinois Medical Center's Tobacco Treatment Center, said she is relieved her patients will no longer see their doctors or other medical center employees smoking outside the hospital--a common occurrence that often sent a mixed message to individuals struggling to quit themselves.

"I think it finally sends a good precedent for our patients that we really find health care important and we're going to be good role models in that regard," Wilken said.

But Wilken has also heard negative feedback from some hospital employees who are patients at the treatment center who think the new policy is excessive and find it unreasonable that they will no longer be able to smoke in their cars as they're driving onto campus or during their breaks at work.

The new policy will be enforced largely through signage, an awareness program and a student patrol that will ensure violators leave the premises--but Donovan said he hopes most people will cooperate with the new rules.

"We're not planning to be the smoking police, but if individuals continue to violate the rules, they will be put through the disciplinary system," Donovan said.

Mini Bui, a 21-year-old English major, used to smoke one to two cigarette packs a week when she lived in Texas while attending community college, but has cut down on the habit since moving to Chicago because of the city's high cigarette prices.

Still, she said when she first heard about the new tobacco-free campus policy on a UIC-focused Reddit forum, she was "really, really annoyed."

The UIC junior said while she understands the reasoning behind the new policy, she considers it an infringement on her personal freedoms.

"I feel like UIC is kind of babysitting me by telling me not to smoke," Bui said. "If I'm stressed out or just want to relax, and as long as I don't disrupt other people, I don't feel like they should be able to enforce this policy on me."

Health information management major and senior Atika Afreen, who was also very active in the campaign to develop the new policy, said that while students do have the right to decide if they want to smoke, they have to understand their behavior affects other people.

"One might say that if one chooses to chew tobacco, it doesn't affect anything else," Afreen said. "However, in the long run, it does. Chewing tobacco is known to cause mouth cancers and other health issues. These conditions are part of a greater myriad of conditions that have been driving up the cost of health care for our country.

"Several years back when it was announced that smoking would be banned in all public buildings in Chicago, there was a huge uproar. However, Chicago adapted very well to this change. I think this policy is just one of those things that we'll look back at many years from now and think, 'Wow, I can't believe we ever used to allow that.' "

UIC's sister campus, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will enact a smoke-free policy in November.

Other Illinois colleges that have already instituted tobacco-free campus policies include Rush University, City Colleges of Chicago, Olivet Nazarene University and College of DuPage, according to a list from the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation.

Erin Vogel is a RedEye special contributor.

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