It’s illegal in San Diego to smoke in a public park, on the beach, or even at a Padres game.
That’s about to change.
On a sunny afternoon at UC San Diego, just steps away from the library, students grab a quick smoke before hitting the books.
Smoking is permitted on campus, under certain restrictions.
People can’t smoke indoors, or within 25 feet of an entryway.
Smoking is allowed at an area near the library, in parking lots, and on campus sidewalks and pathways.
That’s all going to end on September 1, when UC San Diego will go completely smoke free.
Vice Chancellor Karen Calfas is in charge of all of the wellness-related services for UCSD students. She said a few years ago, some students came up with the idea of limiting smoking to just a few areas on campus.
"But then in 2011, there was a meeting at the office of the president for the whole system of the UC," Calfas recalled. "And we were discussing a different type of wellness initiative, and smoking came up. And the question arose, why are we still smoking on campus? And, we all thought, we shouldn’t be."
Calfas formed a subcommittee, which produced a paper advocating that the entire UC system go smoke free.
UC regents agreed.
Last January, UC President Mark Yudoff sent a letter to all school chancellors announcing the smoking ban. He gave the universities two years to prepare for it.
Calfas said UCSD is ready to lead the way this fall.
"Smoking is the number one health habit that leads to the highest amount of morbidity and mortality," Calfas explained. "So, the one thing that people can do to protect their health the most is to quit smoking. These are things that UCSD really values, and we want to create a healthier environment for everyone who’s here, both faculty, staff, students, and our visitors."
The situation is different at San Diego State.
SDSU has 12 designated smoking areas.
One smoking area lies right in the middle of a garden filled with blooming plants and giant shade trees. It’s one of the loveliest parts of the campus.
Graduate student Shanna Dayan said it's a shame.
"I think that it encourages people to smoke in a comfortable environment, and I think it ruins the hill for the other students, too," Dayan lamented.
Shanna Dayan is a tobacco control advocate who’s getting her master’s degree in public health.
Dayan said SDSU has a major problem with cigarette litter.
Last year, she was involved in a special cleanup on campus. Dayan says students collected 24,000 cigarette butts in just one hour.
"The butts are everywhere, and they blend in very well, and that they aren’t biodegradable, and that people should not litter them," Dayan said. "I think everyone knows that smoking is bad for their health. I don’t think they realize how bad it is for the environment, too."
Student Valentino Nguyen has heard all about the hazards of smoking. Still, he believes students should have the right to smoke on campus.
"If you don’t like smoke, then just go away from it," Nguyen said, as he puffed on a cigarette.
Nguyen believes there’s nothing wrong with designated smoking areas.
“You go to a library. It’s supposed to be a quiet place. You go to a smoke area to smoke. And you just have to understand, there’s rules for every location and place and time. So there’s a time and place for everything,” Nguyen explained.
SDSU professor Thomas Novotny doesn't see things that way. He's a former U.S. assistant surgeon general, and he worked on the International Treaty on Tobacco Control.
Novotny said when it comes to protecting people from secondhand smoke, designated areas just don’t cut it.
"But what we know does work is when you ban it completely. Going half way doesn’t work," Novotny said. "And so that’s why I think it’s important to have a completely smoke-free campus, and not have designated areas. What we know is that it didn’t work in restaurants, it didn’t work in airplanes, it didn’t work in worksites. The only way it really works is to say look, there’s no smoking here, and people change their behavior."
In January, the Academic Senate of the Cal State System passed a resolution calling for all campuses to go smoke free.
The San Diego State University Senate will take up this issue this spring.
Smoke-free campuses are not a new idea.
For example, San Diego’s Mesa College went smoke free in 2007. Nationwide, there are more than eleven-hundred smoke-free college campuses.
UC San Diego’s Karen Calfas is looking forward to adding her school to the list.
"And I’m looking forward to a time when I can walk across campus and not smell smoke," she said. "And I’ll be glad to have that for all of my colleagues and friends here."