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CMU Smoking Ban Far in Future, Debated Now

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Carnegie Mellon University is discussing a smoking ban that may take the debate over anti-smoking rules to new heights -- but it may be several years before the ban becomes a reality.

A task force formed of CMU students, staff and faculty members is looking into banning smoking everywhere on campus by 2010. As a first step, the group is considering an indoor-smoking curb that would include previously unaffected places such as fraternity houses, and creating designated areas for smokers. Currently, smokers are allowed to puff 20 feet from the entrances of campus buildings.

Anti-smoking ordinances are in the air lately: A ban approved by Allegheny County Council late last year would remove smoking from restaurants and bars. But these establishments have until June to begin enforcing the ban, and the law is currently being challenged in court.

The goal is for the university to join a short list of smoke-free campuses across the country, says CMU Student Health Service Director Anita Barkin. Today, most of the institutions on that list are small community colleges. No other Pittsburgh college is contemplating a smoking ban as restrictive as CMU's.

"What we're talking about is to change the cultural norm on campus," says Barkin, where "tobacco use is ... the greatest preventable cause of diseases."

Recommendations made by the task force will be considered by the school's administration.

While current students may graduate before the ban hits, campus workers like Linda Gregory, who has run the La Prima coffee stand at Wean Hall for 15 years, are unhappy about such prospects. "Why is it that those who don't smoke have all the rights, but smokers have no rights?" she asks. Fellow barista Dani Flamm wonders how far off-campus she can go during her three-minute break in order to light up.

"When I get stressed," says Flamm, "I need that cigarette."

Student discussions of the ban can sound like a philosophy-class debate.

People proposing such a ban, says non-smoking English major Erika Barrington, simply "expand their belief on others."

"Where does one's freedom begin and another's end?" asks graduate student Alex Giamas as he took a drag on a Marlboro Light outside Wean Hall.

Barkin says that, although the task force has solicited feedback from various campus groups, she'd welcome more input, and may schedule a town hall meeting.

"When it comes to a complete ban," she concedes, "that's where we get into the controversy."

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