DeKALB – Northern Illinois University is seeking the city’s permission to enforce its smoking ban on city-owned streets that run through – and are adjacent to – campus.
Jerry Blakemore, vice president and general counsel for the university, said that NIU would take full responsibility for enforcing the act on the city streets, which would include Lucinda Road, from Annie Glidden Road to Woodley Road and portions of Carroll Avenue, Lincoln Terrace, Locust Street, Garden Road and Normal Road.
The university is concerned that students will congregate on those DeKalb streets to smoke, causing additional safety hazards. Blakemore estimated about 26 percent of NIU students were smokers.
The statewide Smoke-Free Campus Act went into effect July 1. It prohibits smoking on public university property, which includes using any kind of lighted smoking materials such as pipes, cigars and cigarettes. Prohibited materials also include electronic cigarettes and vaporizers. The law doesn’t apply to those driving cars through campus.
Bader Aladhali, an NIU student, stood at the corner of Lucinda and Normal roads Tuesday to smoke a cigarette between classes.
He said that while he thought the smoke-free campus act made sense, he didn’t think it would be good for it to extend to the city streets.
“This isn’t the campus,” he said. “There’s housing here. You have classes and get 10 or 15 minutes for a break. I don’t have any other place to go, so I’d be late to my classes.”
DeKalb’s 1st Ward Alderman David Jacobson and 4th Ward Alderman Bob Snow were skeptical of the proposal.
Snow said he thought it essentially criminalized smoking. Jacobson agreed.
“You’re telling these kids, ‘You must live on campus’ but then providing them no avenue to smoke,” Jacobson said. “If they don’t have a car, they really have no where else to go to smoke. … I realize the university has to comply because it’s a state law. But it’s outrageous and silly. … If the city can provide an outlet for those kids to smoke, so be it. … Maybe we should put some ashtrays out there.”
Fifth Ward Alderwoman Kate Noreiko said that while she saw both sides of the issue, she thought the city should support the university’s efforts.
“I appreciate what Alderman Jacobson and Alderman Snow have brought up about the students’ needs,” she said. “But I think the compelling need at this point is that the university comply with the law, and if we can help with that without incurring any great expense or effort, we should.”
The Smoke-Free Campus Act allows for colleges to stipulate its own penalties for breaking the law, which could include fines and disciplinary action.
Other Illinois universities have run into similar issues with city-owned streets that run through campus.
“There are nine other public Illinois universities,” Blakemore said. “Each that has streets going through have entered into similar agreements with their municipalities.”
No specific penalties are listed on NIU’s Smoke-Free Policy webpage. NIU police officials weren’t immediately available Tuesday for comment.
City staff members will draft a proposed ordinance and City Council members will reconsider the matter at the Sept. 14 meeting.