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Bill seeks to snuff out smoking on college campuses

Cigarette butts picked up around dorms Western Illinois University Macomb      March 24 2013. Ten students

Cigarette butts picked up around dorms at Western Illinois University, Macomb on March 24, 2013. Ten students picked up butts for about 90 minutes from three different dormitories on the same day Macomb got 10 inches of snow. There were cigarette receptacles at each location, but these cigarettes were found on the ground nearby.

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Updated: June 6, 2013 6:58AM

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois’ public colleges and universities could be forced to stamp out smoking on their campuses by next summer if a bill facing members of the House becomes law.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan), squeaked out of the state Senate on Wednesday by a 30-22 vote after failing to get the necessary 30 votes in late April. Link also championed the Smoke-Free Illinois Act that passed in 2008 and made it illegal to smoke in bars and restaurants.

“It’s the wave of the future,” Link said. “And I think young people are realizing smoking is not the best thing for you, and less and less are starting, which is a great sign.”

If Link’s proposal becomes law, Illinois will join Arkansas, Iowa and Kansas as the only states with statewide laws banning smoking on college campuses.

Under the bill, every state-supported university and community college would have to enact a campus smoking ban no later than July 1, 2014, and would have to form a task force charged with implementing the act and carrying out disciplinary actions as it chooses.

More than two dozen Illinois colleges and universities already ban smoking, including the seven City Colleges of Chicago. Most recently joining that list are the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which are set to implement smoking bans in July 2013 and January 2014, respectively.

Link’s proposal passed despite concerns of enforcement and whether the state should allow its colleges and universities to decide on a ban themselves.

“Let’s remember, unlike banning smoking indoors, what we’re talking about in this bill is banning smoking across square miles, oftentimes where there’s large land, where there are no people around,” Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) said on the Senate floor. “The places this would ban smoking at, those places are governed by a board of trustees that can make decisions like this for themselves.”

But Link — who joked that he is the “godfather of Smoke-Free Illinois” — thinks the state should help move the ball along.

“When we did Smoke-Free Illinois, a lot of people were asking us to do a statewide standard,” he said. “And that’s what we’re doing here so it’s not a patchwork. This way, all state colleges and universities will have the same standard.”

Kathy Drea, vice president for the American Lung Association in Illinois, has been rounding up support for Link’s plan and thinks Illinois needs to join the 1,129 higher education campuses she said were smoke-free as of January 2013.

“It’s a trend that’s happening across the nation,” Drea said. “This is the way to get it done so that all of our kids that are going to school are protected from secondhand smoke.”

Several of the state’s colleges have begun surveying their students on the possibility of campus smoking bans, but others like Northern Illinois University will likely follow the state’s lead.

“Traditionally in this state, the determination has been made at the institutional level, but we’re prepared to follow whatever the mandate may be,” said Paul Palian, NIU media and public relations director.

While NIU follows current state law banning smoking within 15 feet of any entrance, Palian acknowledged it would be naïve to think those rules aren’t broken and he questioned how well a total state mandate could be enforced.

“It’s not going to take that much once kids realize they can’t smoke on campus,” Link said. “You’ll see warnings given to them first and once they realize this is the end of the game, I don’t think you’re going to have much problems.”

Both Link and Drea see their proposal as part of a national movement where smoking indoors and near buildings is becoming more taboo.

“This is all about social change. We want people to grow up in a smoke-free society where it is not considered to be a normal activity to smoke,” Drea said.

Statistics appear to support that notion, with 83 percent of college students saying they’ve never smoked or haven’t in the last 30 days, according to an American College Health Association study.

Link put the data in perspective: “When I was growing up it was cool to smoke. Today, it’s not cool to smoke,” he said. “I think that is something that society will push harder than probably anybody will.”

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