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USenate debates campus smoking ban

A proposed resolution to ban smoking within 50 feet of all buildings on Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus has become a contentious issue in the University Senate.

At its monthly plenary meeting on Friday, senators debated a proposal that has long been in the works.

The resolution, proposed by the Senate’s External Relations Committee, was based on a two-year evaluation process conducted by the Tobacco Work Group, a group of students and staff established in 2008 by Vice President for Campus Services Scott Wright. Since then, according to the resolution, the group has solicited opinions from students and faculty and studied local laws, policies at peer institutions, and current literature on tobacco and its long-term effects.

Michael McNeil, chair of the working group and director of Health Services’ Alice! Health Promotion Program, said the 50-feet recommendation was based on both New York state law, which prohibits smoking within 20 feet of college residence halls, and the current policies of individual buildings on campus, such as Avery Fine Arts and Architecture Library, that already have 50-feet smoking bans in place.

Immediately after the policy was proposed, Michael Adler, a professor at the Columbia Business School and a self-proclaimed smoker, spoke out against the proposal and offered an amendment: small huts around campus that would protect smokers from bad weather.

“We [smokers] don’t break any laws, and we are nice people,” Adler said. “Remember, you are dealing with people who are addicted. … They cannot be exposed to the elements in the winter.”

Adler added that these huts could be painted Columbia blue and made to look like umbrellas.

University President Lee Bollinger, who sits on the Executive Committee of the USenate, said he opposed Adler’s idea due to the potential financial burden it could create. Adler responded, “The cost of these shelters is going to be minuscule.”

“If it is the will of the senate that this happen, it would be important and powerful, and, I think, unfortunate,” Bollinger said before the official vote on the amendment.

The amendment was voted down, with 32 senators opposed to the idea, 11 in favor, and six abstentions. But the senate voted unanimously to consider the idea going forward.

If the shelters were approved, architecture students could even help build them, said Esteban Reichberg, a student senator from the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.
After the issue of the shelters was decided, the body moved on to discussing the issue as a whole.

Some senators raised broader concerns about the University’s ability to enforce a 50-feet rule. The proposed policy might alienate student smokers, and it could be difficult to determine where proper smoking areas should be.

After a lengthy debate, Bollinger agreed with some senators that they were not prepared to vote on the issue yet, and the senate voted to table a final vote until its December plenary meeting.

At the end of the meeting, Bollinger conducted a straw poll to gauge members’ current opinions and found that 22 were in favor of the policy and 16 opposed, with nine abstentions.

amber.tunnell@columbiaspectator.com

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