Help Me, I Can’t Breathe

The Elephant in the Room

Andrew Breland

So I will come out and admit it. I love coffee.

I think in stating that, I join a large club consisting of most of the undergraduate population at the country’s universities, as well as most business professionals, etc. And the best place to satisfy an otherwise addictive craving is none other than the Starbucks located in scenic house three of the Village at 115. I only choose this location because, living in the Village myself, it is the closest to me.

But as I sit outside each morning, drinking coffee, enjoying the last few days of bearable Cleveland weather, I cannot help but be distracted and annoyed every morning at the smell permeating at me from across the street. For those that are unaware, I am talking about the existence of one of CWRU’s designated smoking areas in the north residential village.

Let me be clear about something first. I do not hate smokers. I have many friends who smoke and I do not fault them at all. However, I do hate smoking. I think it’s a terrible habit and would never consider taking part myself. Perhaps having a grandfather die from complications of smoking will do that to you. But this column isn’t meant to be a public safety announcement. In fact, I do not care if students smoke. However, I do care when it begins to impede on my ability to enjoy an otherwise pretty campus.

There are 13 designated smoking areas on the CWRU campus with another two at university owned buildings a few blocks away. Other than these areas, the university’s policy toward smoking states: “The university does not permit smoking in any of its buildings or structures, including in residence halls or in university vehicles. In addition, all outside walkways and grounds of university property are smoke-free…”

The policy goes on to recognize the designated smoking areas and concludes by stating that the entirety of the health sciences campus is completely smoke free.

CWRU prides itself on being at the forefront of health issues. Our dining halls are filled with food made locally and prepared in a healthy manner. All students must take physical education classes to help foster a desire to remain active in life. But across campus, our image as a healthy campus is scarred by the existence of smoking areas—home to perhaps the unhealthiest and deadliest habit in which one can choose to partake.

The matter only worsens when we consider that designated smoking areas are hardly the only place people smoke. Walking across the quad and even through the residential areas, one can’t help but catch the scent of cigarette smoke. Every day if I walk by less than 20 smokers outside the designated areas, I consider myself lucky. I cannot even enter my suite in the Village without the same issue, as any slight breeze lets the smell of cigarette smoke permeate my windows. Febreze, therefore, has become my best friend.

We have a campus of 155 acres in University Circle. I have never stood in one place, anywhere, and been unable to see a single individual smoking, and this is a sad reality to live in. Those instructed to patrol and ensure compliance simply remind those in violation, and keep walking. The smokers tend to just keep going (I have personal stories I couldn’t fit here, so please ask me).

And it gets even worse. Sitting outside, one can’t help but notice that tour groups visiting campus walk by no less than four designated smoking areas. One of these areas is embarrassing to our university as cigarette butts litter the ground and is a constant sign of mediocrity and disgust (the smoking area across from the Coffee House, for anyone interested). This isn’t the fault of the admissions office, or even the smokers, who could of course do more to clean up the area, but instead it’s a flaw in the university’s policy.

But there is a feasible solution.

Last year, Cleveland State University, a public university with more than triple the number of undergraduates as CWRU, voted to go completely smoke-free. Elsewhere in the state, Ohio State University will be smoke-free in January, and Miami University has been smoke-free for years. All public universities in the state have been instructed to eliminate smoking on campus and most have succeeded or will within the year. CWRU, therefore, remains one of the very few universities in the state that still allows smoking on campus.

These other universities don’t have CWRU’s commitment to health. But somehow they have beaten us to the game on this extremely important issue. Study after study has proven that secondhand smoke, or inhaling smoke from another’s cigarette, is as dangerous or even more so than smoking yourself. If CWRU wants to continue an image of health consciousness, we must eliminate all smoking on campus. The health science campus has been this way since at least 2005. It’s about time that status makes its way to the entire campus.

Andrew Breland is a double major in political science and English, planning on getting a master’s degree in political science before attending law school. He is the vice president of the Phi Alpha Delta pre-law fraternity and the treasurer of CWRU’s undergraduate mock trial team.