Stamping Out Smoking -- Even Outdoors

To the dismay of some students and employees, Pennsylvania's system of state-owned universities uses new law curbing "indoor" smoking to ban it everywhere on its 14 campuses.
September 25, 2008

Despite its seemingly deliberate name, the recently enacted Pennsylvania Clear Indoor Air Act now bans outdoor smoking on the 14 campuses of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

Though some laud the sweeping ban as the ultimatum that could stamp out smoking on campus all together, others criticize it as a draconian infringement on their civil liberties. Now, as individual institutions determine how and to what extent they will enforce the ban, unions representing state employees in the system are readying a fight to oppose it. These groups argue that the state system should not have implemented the ban without first conferring with them. Adding to the debate, some students on the affected campuses have even staged “smoke-ins” protesting the system’s decision.

The Clear Indoor Air Act, passed this summer and effective as of September 11, defines the public places in which the smoking ban applies as “an enclosed area which serves as a workplace, commercial establishment or an area where the public is invited or permitted.” The day before the state law took effect, the state system informed its almost 110,000 students and 12,000 employees via e-mail that -- under its generous interpretation of the law -- smoking would be banned absolutely everywhere on the state-owned campuses, including courtyards, parking lots and athletic fields.

Peter Garland, executive vice chancellor of the state system, said system officials believe the law applies to outdoor areas because of its stipulation that "public places" include "educational facilities." It is more comprehensive, he said, to ban smoking at all places on campus than to determine specific places where, and circumstances under which, it should be allowed.

The law charges the state Department of Health with enforcement. Garland said, however, that the exact details of how the ban should be enforced on the system’s 14 campuses were still being determined. Although the law outlines multiple fines for violations -- from $250 for a first offense to $1,000 for a third offense within a year -- he said the primary focus of current enforcement was to educate the public about the ban and provide information about smoking cessation programs. Levying fines, he said, should neither be the first response to a violation nor the focus of enforcement at this early stage.

Some state employees, however, feel that the ban should not have even been enacted. The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) -- a union representing more than 6,000 faculty members and coaches in the system -- filed an unfair labor practice charge Monday with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board against the system for failing to discuss the ban with it and other related unions.

“The [state system] has cleverly made the politically correct decision to go ahead and ban smoking both indoors and outdoors,” Steve Hicks, APSCUF president, stated in a press release. “But the system is mistaken if it thinks [APSCUF], or other unions, is going to ignore its basic mission of negotiating the working conditions of its members; it is its most basic function.”

Additionally, Council 13 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- a union representing about 2,500 clerical, custodial and other workers throughout the system -- insists that it, too, should have been consulted to negotiate the terms of the ban. Darrin Spann, assistant to the council’s executive director, said smoking is a mandatory subject of employee bargaining and that every state organization other than the university system negotiated details of the new state law with his union. He said the union plans to meet with system officials October 13 to discuss the matter further.

“We’re not asking for anything unreasonable,” Spann said, noting that the union would seek the creation of designated outdoor smoking areas on all 14 campuses. “I think it’s ridiculous for the state system to interpret the law this way, because of its name. The name is there for a reason. It was put there for people to understand that this was an indoor ban only.”

Although Garland confirmed the system’s October meeting with the union, he said it will not be a negotiation. It is clear from the system’s interpretation, he said, that the campuses would remain completely smoke free in the future. He added that there will be no conversation about a compromise with the union to allow smoking on certain parts of the campuses.

“Interpretation of the law is not open to bargaining,” Garland said. “We view this as the best interpretation of the law. The fact of the matter is this affects all public and private entities. Odds are there is going to be some variation in enforcement of the act.”

Pennsylvania's other public universities -- including the University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania State University -- do not interpret the new state law as harshly. Both institutions ban smoking indoors and within certain perimeters of buildings but do not extend the bans to outdoor areas. John Fedele, Pitt spokesman, said a ban throughout its urban campus would be “far more difficult to enforce than on a self-contained campus," as many university buildings are intermingled among privately owned property. Conversely, Bill Mahon, a Penn State spokesman, said while outdoor smoking is not banned at the university’s flagship campus, in University Park, it is banned at some of its more compact branches, such as the medical campus in Hershey.

At Clarion University, a state system institution about 60 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, about 60 students held a “smoke-in” in the courtyard near the campus library to protest the ban. The protesting students had demands similar to those of the unions.

“We’re simply asking for some compromise, like one or two designated (smoking) areas on campus,” Steve Dugan, a freshman, told the Associated Press at the protest. “It would have been better if there were more warning given and a chance to put in our own ideas."


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