Smoke-free urban plaza

Portland State’s Urban Plaza is a smoke-free zone, though many can still be seen lighting up in the area.

Portland State’s Urban Plaza is a smoke-free zone, though many can still be seen lighting up in the area.

Beginning in Jan. 2010, a smoking ban went into effect in Urban Plaza, coinciding with the opening of the new Academic & Student Recreation Center.

However, enforcement of this new ban is lacking. There is not any strict enforcement of the rule, and many students may not even know that this area is now smoke-free.

According to PSU’s smoking/tobacco use policy, the smoke-free area includes “all open space” between the College of Urban and Public Affairs and the Academic and Student Recreation Center.

The brick area next to the PSU Bookstore technically went smoke-free over a year ago when PSU’s smoking policy was updated, but due to construction in the area the ban was pushed back.

The decision to make Urban Plaza smoke-free was also based on the intention to mirror Pioneer Square, the “living room of Portland,” which is also smoke-free.

The university policy was restructured after a campus-wide tobacco survey circulated in 2006 that gleaned insight from PSU students and faculty regarding smoking and tobacco use.

“We did a survey about the entire campus community, everyone got the survey in 2006 via Web, and we had over 2,000 people reply,” said Gwyn Ashcom, outreach coordinator for Student Health and Counseling.

Ashcom was part of a committee that compiled an evaluation report that was a large factor in the policy changes. This evaluation contained the results of the tobacco survey, as well as input from a vast range of committee members from different disciplines and departments.

“The feedback that we were getting in regards to smoking on campus was that there was no outdoor area for folks that wanted to be in a non-smoking environment,” Ashcom said.

According to Ashcom, there were both smokers and non-smokers on the committee. Input from outside community resources, like the American Lung Association and the Native American Rehabilitation Association, was also taken into consideration.

“We also looked at all the other schools in Oregon, all the other colleges and universities, [and with] every school we did a comparison to see what their policies were. [We] looked at about five urban sister schools to see what they were doing. And then we looked at academic literature as far as what secondhand smoke is and all of that. And then we came up with, after all that gathering, a recommendation for policy change,” Ashcom said.

Those recommendations went into effect last March, and included changes that not many students have heeded.

“It’s pretty restrictive, and I don’t think a lot of folks know how restrictive it is,” Ashcom said.

Since the policy change, there have been additional “no smoking” signs on the sky bridges, the balconies, the patios between buildings and under awnings. Also, there is a restriction of smoking within 25 feet of PSU buildings.

While this may seem excessive, Ashcom points out that these are pretty mild restrictions for a university. Because much of PSU is sitting on city-owned land, like the Park Blocks, it has little control over the smoking regulations outside of the buildings. Tobacco use in the Park Blocks and city streets is governed by city regulations.

“We really only have control between our buildings,” Ashcom said.

Since Urban Plaza is completely owned by PSU, it is one of the few places in which a smoking ban is possible.

“What we are asking is for people to be courteous and to self-police, basically,” Ashcom said. “Know where you are at and be respectful of others, on both sides of it. For smokers and non-smokers, we want respect from both sides.”

To read the current Smoking/Tobacco Policy for Portland State University, please go to:

To read the Smoking/Tobacco Use Policy Evaluation Report, please go to: