KINGSTON, R.I. — December 1, 2000 — University of Rhode Island officials plan to designate all on-campus residence halls and apartment complexes as “smoke free”, effective June 1, 2001. The University cited residence hall fires that have occurred throughout the country during the past few years and the well-documented health risks associated with smoking and exposure to second hand smoke as two main reasons for the policy change.
This action would reverse the current policy that allows for smoking in student rooms with consent of roommates. Currently, the residence hall student rooms are the only places where smoking is allowed in University-owned facilities. Barlow Hall, the newly renovated residence hall; the new Diversity House residence, and Tucker Hall, the Wellness residence hall, are all currently smoke-free.
The change has been endorsed by URI President Robert L. Carothers; John McCray, vice president for student affairs; Dennis Stark, vice president for business and finance; and a cadre of administrators, including the Director of Safety and Risk Management, the Director of Health Services, the Director of Residential Life, and the Dean of Students.
“Without question, the potential exists for fire to occur from the careless use of cigarettes,” said Chip Yensan, director of residential life. “While not attributed to cigarette use, the recent Seton Hall fire serves as a sobering reminder of the dangers of careless behaviors that may put at risk hundreds of students at any time of the day or night.”
URI’s Health Services already offers resources and support to students who are quitting smoking. Additional smoking cessation programs will be offered to support the URI residence hall population during this transition to a smoke-free living environment.
“We believe that this is another important step in reshaping our community, making it a safer and better place for our new culture for learning,” said Carothers. “In addition, it seems only fitting, given the University’s expertise in smoking cessation programs through our world-renown Cancer Prevention Research Center, that we tap these valuable resources to support resident students at this time.”
Although national studies point to an increase in tobacco use among college age students, a recent representative sample survey of resident hall students found about 83.5 percent of the respondents identified themselves as nonsmokers. The survey was conducted as part of URI’s Spring 2000 Housing and Residential Life Quality of Life Survey.
The request for the change in policy, forwarded to and approved by Carothers, officially asks that the University apply all state statutes and laws governing smoking in State of Rhode Island buildings to all on-campus residence halls and apartment complexes. This action would nullify a 1993 modification clause to the Non-Smoking Policy of the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education that allowed for smoking in student rooms with consent of roommates.
The residence halls at the University of New Hampshire and the University of Delaware (Newark Campus) became smoke free this fall. Salve Regina residence halls have been smoke free the past three years and smokers must be at least 10 feet from building entrances when smoking. In some instances, colleges and universities maintain smoke-free academic and administrative buildings, but allow smoking to some degree in residence halls, which is the policy at the University of Connecticut. Smoking is allowed in resident rooms, but not in common areas.
Although the University of Massachusetts/Amherst has prohibited smoking in individual residence hall rooms since 1993, it does provide a designated common area in each residence hall where smoking is permitted. No smoking is allowed within 20 feet of a building entrance, nor on building porches or balconies. No smoking is permitted in seating areas of outside sporting events.
The URI Student Senate has been advised of the University’s intent to enact this new smoke-free policy in the residence halls. The resident students were notified this week and current students, new students, and their parents will also receive information about the changes well in advance of the June 2001 implementation date.
“As we renovate the residence halls, and install more sophisticated and sensitive smoke detectors in each student room, the smoke-free environment will reduce the number of false alarms,” said Director of Safety and Risk Management Frank McGovern, commenting on the fire alarms that — ironically — were part of the tragedy of the Seton Hall, N.J., fire in January. “They had so many false alarms over a short period of time that when the legitimate smoke alarm signaled a fire, the students didn’t take it seriously and stayed in bed,” said McGovern. The Seton Hall blaze killed three freshmen and injured more than 50 others.