SG, others work to transform campus into total smoke-free environment

Posted September 20, 2013


For the first time in its history, the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus has gone 100 percent smoke free.

After Student Government received numerous requests from students seeking a smoke-free campus, the idea of creating a plan to fight tobacco use on campus became a reality. Thanks to the efforts of the University of Miami’s students, faculty, staff and Tobacco Free Florida, the smoking policy is now active for the fall semester, effective on Aug. 1.

Bhumi Patel, president of Student Government, said that the main purpose of the project is to change the culture on campus and protect the rights of the non-smoker population.

“I think the biggest part was education, so we did smoke free zones that will inform them that we will be going smoke free in an year,” said Patel.

Students, faculty and staff who want to smoke will now have to leave campus in order to respect the policy.

“There is always a road not too far, so you can step out to Ponce, Miller, Memorial just to mention some,” said Patel.

Now that the campus has gone 100 percent smoke free, anyone can enforce a person smoking and carrying a lighted cigarette or an electronic cigarette, as well as other devices that contain tobacco or other smoke-producing product.

Students who don’t smoke find the project very helpful to the well being of the population on campus. For example, Michael Kaplan, who is a senior in microbiology and immunology, finds the project a great initiative.

“The policy meshes well with the medical school’s mission, where the medical school went smoke free a few years ago,” said Kaplan.

On the other hand, students who do smoke find the 100 percent smoke-free policy to be unnecessary.

Sammer Softa, an international student who currently is a sophomore in biology, is against the smoke free policy.

“I preferred when there were designed areas to smoke, because all the students that smoked before, are smoking anywhere now,” said Softa.

The problem with the project is that it doesn’t have an enforcement mechanism. The policy just says that students, faculty and staff of the University of Miami can tell the smokers to put the cigarettes down.

Imagine not having any enforcement on campus parking spaces; everyone will park everywhere.

Patel said the enforcement policies are reminders.

“The enforcement is all on us, there isn’t per se a punishment policy but, again, the real purpose is to remind each other that we are a smoke-free campus and that there are smoking cessation classes available,” said Patel.

It is a bit utopic that a campus can become-smoke free just by creating a policy with no enforcement.

Softa strongly disagrees on the 100 percent smoke-free campus and the enforcement policies.

“For me, it used to be a non-smoking campus with the designated smoking zones, but now is just a smoking campus. I can smoke everywhere,” said Softa.

Diane Mahin is an Intensive English Program faculty lecturer at the university. Even though she is not a smoker, she agrees that it would be better to have designated zones to smoke.

“It is an open campus, so students, faculty and staff should be able to smoke on some areas where they don’t bother non-smokers. At the end, people still sneak out to smoke here and there,” said Mahin.

Even though the purpose of the policy is not to punish, but to change the culture on campus, some kind of real enforcement should be used to really achieve the goal of being a 100 percent smoke-free campus. Students that support the project also agree on having other kind of enforcement, further than just telling a person to put away the cigarette.

“I think a policy is only as good as it is respected and that is certainly a trial period where the school must experiment with punishments that are not overly harsh, but also enough to be taken seriously,” said Kaplan.

The campus just became-smoke free a month ago, so it is too soon to see any measurable results. However, there has been a decrease on cigarette use on campus.

“Now I can walk through and not see a bunch of people smoking. Also we have seen students asking other students to put their cigarettes down, which means the project is affecting positively the university community,” said Patel.

The project of becoming a smoke free campus doesn’t end with a policy. The University of Miami, along with the Wellness Center and the Miller School of Medicine designed an award-winning program called Be Smoke Free.

The program is available to UM and the non-UM community. It is also a reminder that you are not alone in the process of quitting smoking.

Virginia Perez is the director of the program and she is an enthusiastic of its effectiveness.

“Hundred percent of participants who attend class once a week for the full six weeks are smoke free by the end of the program,” said Perez.

Be Smoke Free consists of coming to one support class once a week. Classes are held on two campuses: at the Coral Gables campus on the Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center and at the medical campus on the Medical Wellness Center. Patches are given for free for the first four weeks to anyone interested in using them.

“In these classes, we will discuss the addiction, help individuals set up their own game plan to get off the cigarettes and provide continued support for the duration of the program,” said Perez.

Whether smoker or non-smoker, both groups agree that if there isn’t any enforcement on people that violate the policy, the campus will never be 100 percent smoke-free. Perez commented on this.

“Second hand smoking is almost as bad as first hand and non-smokers should not be exposed to it unnecessarily. This institution has set rules into place to protect the clean air for our community, and I think there should be a penalty for those who deliberately go against it,” said Perez.

For further information on the Be Smoke Free program call 305-243-7606 or visit

Signs on campus say “breath freely.” However, a few smokers are smoking freely and not vice versa.

A report of the Surgeon General explained the damaging effects of second hand smoke.

“There is no risk‐free level of exposure to secondhand smoke: even small amounts of secondhand smoke exposure can be harmful to people’s health.”

It is not a myth that smoking cigarettes causes many heart diseases and different types of cancer. However, second hand smoke can also cause these types of diseases because the majority of its chemicals are considered to be toxic and carcinogenic.

“A smoke‐free environment is the only way to fully protect nonsmokers from the dangers of second-hand smoke. 
Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposure of nonsmokers to second-hand smoke,” As explained in the Surgeon General Report.

Thousands of studies made through the years have proved that smoking cigarettes and inhaling its smoke becomes a threat to the human health.

“The global burden of disease study, estimated that exposure to second-hand smoke is responsible for more than 601.000 premature deaths worldwide in 2010,” said Saberio Lo Presti, an internal medicine resident at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach.

Not only adults can be affected by second-hand smoke, children who are exposed to cigarette smoke are at risk too. It is important to mention that many kids visit and spend time in the Coral Gables campus.

“Second hand-smoke has been associated with perinatal mortality, sudden infant death syndrome, increased prevalence and severity of asthma during childhood. In adulthood, numerous studies concluded that second-hand smoke is a cause of lung cancer and coronary heart diseases,” said Lo Presti.

It has been argued that the UM’s Coral Gables campus is an open space and smoking won’t bother or cause any damages to nonsmokers individuals. However, it has been proven that once the air gets contaminated, cigarette smoke can affect the person who inhales it.

“I agree with the statement of banning cigarettes and tobacco related products in public areas given all the ailments that are consequences of the use of these products. Not only there is an increased risk of cancer in first-hand smokers, but also in second-hand smokers,” said Lo Presti.

As Patel said, the smoke free policy on campus was not meant to make smokers quit, but to become a safer and healthier campus.

Lo Presti commented on this.

“There has been universities and public parks and areas that have already started to ban these products to promote healthier lifestyles,” said Lo Presti.

Today, many institutions are becoming smoke-free. Florida International University became smoke-free in January 2011.

Mariela Gabaroni, assistant director of University Health Services and chairperson of the Smoke Free Task Force, said that most of the students respected the policy, but there were also students who won’t obey it.

“To my knowledge, we are the first university in Florida that has an official enforcement mechanism in place,” said Gabaroni.

According to Gabaroni, the police technicians and police officials can enforce anyone using tobacco-linked products.

“The first time offenders will receive a Notice of Violation with information on resources available to help manage tobacco use and/or quit if so desired,” said Gabaroni.

Second time offenders will be required to attend to a management class at the University Health Services. If the policy is broken for the third time, students will be referred to the Office of Student and Conflict Resolution for appropriate discipline.

“We didn’t want to fine our students, faculty and staff,” said Gabaroni.

Even though that FIU enforces anyone using tobacco related products, they don’t attach fines to the violation notices.

The implementation of the 100 percent smoke-free policy at the University of Miami was a huge step to increase the well-being and safety of its students, staff and faculty.

“We still have a long road to walk in this process, but we are very happy of how everything is turning out for the UM community,” said Patel.

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