December 20, 2007

University prepares for Smoke-Free Illinois law

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — There will be a couple of noticeable changes on the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus beginning Jan. 1, when the Smoke-Free Illinois Act takes effect.

The smoke-free perimeter for all buildings will be 15 feet. SIUC buildings have already been smoke-free, but previously the smoke-free zone extended 25 feet around buildings. "No smoking" signs will be posted across campus.

When the new law kicks in, the public can report violations of the smoke-free zone by calling the Illinois Department of Public Health's Smoke-free Illinois Complaint Line at 866/973-4646 or online at That applies on campus and elsewhere in the state. The new legislation prohibits any type of smoking within public facilities and buildings, including restaurants, shopping centers, healthcare facilities, entertainment venues and government-owned vehicles or public transportation. Per Illinois law, there will be no smoking permitted within 15 feet of any building entrance, exit, window that opens or ventilation intakes that serve an enclosed no-smoking area.

The General Assembly's approval of the act was a response to its conclusion that tobacco smoke is a dangerous carcinogen and public health hazard. According to the National Cancer Institute, secondhand smoke causes at least 65,000 deaths nationally each year from heart disease and lung cancer, along with a variety of other health issues. An estimated 2,900 Illinois citizens die annually from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.

The Live Free-Tobacco Free program at SIUC's Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development (CRHSSD), along with the SIUC smoking policy steering committee, is doing its part to help with the transition.

"We have been able to take the lead in the state to develop the tobacco control initiatives for colleges and universities," said Elaine M. Vitello, co-director for the Live Free-Tobacco Free program.

Created in the fall of 2001, the grant-funded program's first goal was to create and develop a comprehensive tobacco control initiative usable by any university or college. Colleges and universities across the state have joined SIUC in implementing in whole or in part, the templates, plans and materials created at the SIUC center.

"The state is going smoke-free but there are options for people who want to quit and resources available," said Tess Ford, director for the center and the program. Ford said about 70 percent of the population doesn't smoke and the new legislation creating smoke-free environments in public places makes the health and wellness of the public a priority over individual rights. Smoking is still allowed in private residences and select other locations, but those violating the prohibitions could be subject to fines of $100-$250, with even stiffer fines for business owners/operators who allow the violations.

Individuals wanting to quit smoking can contact the American Lung Association's Tobacco Quit Line at 866/QUIT-YES (866/784-8937) or visit the Jackson County Health Department Web site at The Quit Line even provides access to medications, patches and other resources.

SIUC spends approximately $75,000 annually for personnel, equipment and other expenses to deal with smoking-related debris, according to Brad Dillard, associate director of facilities.

In addition to health concerns, Vitello pointed to the issue of equity. For instance, a smoker who leaves his or her desk to go outside and smoke during the workday may spend less time actually working and typically also utilizes more sick days, she said.

"Smoking has tremendous adverse effects not only with the health aspects but with the economic impact as well," Vitello said.

Currently, all campus buildings, including residence halls, are smoke-free. SIUC policy prohibits tobacco sales on campus.

Research shows a drop in smoking and littering, program officials said. Studies the last several years reveal that 27.3 percent of SIUC students were smokers in 2003 and 21.2 percent were the following year. A jump occurred in 2005, with 28.7 percent smoking, but by 2006 just 21.8 percent smoked, according to Edith Ng'oma, coordinator of Live Free-Tobacco Free. She said she expects the new smoke-free Illinois legislation, additional tobacco products tax and stepped-up implementation of tobacco cessation efforts on campus to lead to another drop in the rate this year.

"The University is preparing for changes to come and we want to let people know what resources are available to help them now," Ford said. The center's role includes policy creation and implementation of curriculum and educational programs; marketing; helping students, faculty and staff; and tobacco use prevention for campus and community.

"The bottom line is we're saving lives," said Miriam Link-Mullison, administrator of the Jackson County Health Department and member of the SIUC smoking policy steering committee.

For more information about the SIUC Live Free-Tobacco Free program, contact the Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development at 618/453-1262.