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May 28, 2009

1st designated smoking spot established

A designated smoking area, the first approved since the University adopted a revised smoking policy in September 2007, has been established outside the Graduate School of Public Health.

Signs have been posted on the exterior of Parran Hall to direct smokers to the designated area on the North Bouquet Street side of the building. Inside, building occupants were alerted via email and displays in the lobby that, effective May 18, smoking would be limited to the designated area.

Perhaps surprisingly, some anti-smoking advocates were among those instrumental in making the request.

Stephanie Land, director of Pitt’s Reduce Smoking and Exposure to Tobacco (ReSET) Center, admitted that when she first was approached with the idea, her reaction was negative. She feared that designating such an area might give the impression that smoking was acceptable and could create a social environment that might promote the habit.

However, given that smokers tended to congregate in the parking garage or on the sidewalks outside, “It doesn’t look like we’re promoting public health,” she said, conceding that she finally was convinced that a designated smoking area could reduce the prevalence of smoking outside GSPH.

“There’s been quite a bit of difficulty with cigarette smoking around the GSPH building,” she said, citing secondhand smoke and cigarette butt litter among the issues that building employees find problematic.

Pitt’s revised smoking policy (Policy 04-05-03) prohibits smoking within 15 feet of primary building entrances and air intake vents, although violations of the policy are common.

Respondents to a GSPH faculty survey conducted in March indicated that 49 percent “frequently” or “constantly” saw people smoking within 15 feet of doorways on campus and 48 percent frequently or constantly saw people smoking outside the building where they usually worked.

Some of the traffic has come from smokers migrating from neighboring UPMC properties — Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, UPMC Presbyterian and formerly Children’s Hospital, which early this month moved to Lawrenceville. A smoking ban on UPMC properties in 2007 caused some friction in neighboring areas as smokers moved beyond UPMC grounds to light up (see July 26, 2007, University Times).

The GSPH faculty survey found that 93 percent of respondents felt smoking either should be banned on campus or allowed only in isolated areas.

Land said social pressure is among the strongest ways smokers are dissuaded from lighting up in other areas, adding that a number of GSPH faculty and staff aren’t shy about bringing up the issue and can be counted on to ask smokers to move to the designated area. “If the signs are pretty clear,” she said, any problem typically can be taken care of person to person. She added that ReSET can provide handouts for anyone who would like to inform smokers about Pitt’s policy. Land said ReSET would be willing to create wallet-size versions, which can be requested by contacting Heidi Green at

Linda Duchak, who shocked Land last year with her suggestion that GSPH implement the campus’s first smoking area, said she doesn’t view the move as an endpoint, but as a “next step to stronger tobacco control on Pitt’s campus.” Acknowledging that Pitt’s urban setting would make an outright smoking ban difficult, she said the designated area serves to “change the social norm” by indicating that smoking is not acceptable everywhere.

Duchak, who was involved in the implementation of UPMC’s smoking ban before joining GSPH’s Center for Public Health Practice in January, said the efforts aim not to be punitive, but rather to be supportive of smokers’ efforts to quit. Reducing the availability of places to smoke or buy tobacco, she said, can help smokers — many of whom want to quit — make that decision.

“Years ago, it was the cool thing to do. Now it’s turned around and it’s not cool anymore,” she said. Social discomfort and inconvenience can influence the decision to quit. “Hopefully these different pressure points will help them be able to quit,” she said. “This is a positive step forward for public health. I’m happy GSPH took the lead on it.”

Duchak added, “I would hope this continues with other schools, at least throughout the Schools of the Health Sciences, changing that social norm to protect nonsmokers and support smokers in quitting.”

A School of Medicine administrator indicated the school is considering similar action, but Jay Frerotte, director of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), which must approve designated smoking area requests, said he has no pending requests in hand.

Frerotte noted that even prior to the 2007 smoking policy revision, the policy permitted requests for designated smoking areas. However, in his seven years in EHS, he hadn’t been approached until recently. One prior request, he said, was denied due to pedestrian safety concerns related to the proximity of the proposed area to a parking garage entrance. “It wasn’t the right location,” he said, declining to identify the unit making the request.

Under the smoking policy, requests for designated smoking areas must be made in writing to EHS. Frerotte said his department will evaluate proposed locations for suitability, taking into account safety concerns as well as ensuring that the proposed location complies with policy requirements such as the 15-foot limit.

Among the factors might be safety concerns related to vehicles or proximity to flammable materials such as mulch beds, wooden decks or Dumpsters, he said.

In the case of the GSPH request, Frerotte said concerns about possibly drawing in smokers from beyond the campus also factored into the selected location. “We didn’t want to create a site that would attract smokers,” he said, adding that the North Bouquet Street location accommodates GSPH without being overly attractive to smokers from beyond the building.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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