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DeKalb officials decline immediate action on city streets smoke-ban

DeKALB – City council members aren’t ready just yet to ban smoking on city streets on or near the Northern Illinois University campus.

NIU Implemented a mandatory smoking ban on its campus this year, to comply with the Illinois Smoke Free Campus Act, which went into effect July 1. The law prohibits smoking on campus, which includes using any sort of lighted pipe, cigar, cigarette and cigarillo. Vaporizers and e-cigarettes also are banned under the act. The university has asked the city for the power to enforce the ban on streets that run through and are adjacent to campus. 

The concern is that students will gather on the other side of the road to smoke, causing safety concerns. Another issue is the impact that clouds of smoke will have on residents and business owners with property across those streets, NIU representative Jennifer Groce, said. 

“Garden Road is a good example of this,” she said. “One side is campus, and the other is residential. … Our campus has received numerous complaints, especially on Garden Road and from businesses on Normal Road.” 

City streets affected 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. 

NIU’s primary goals are to comply with state law and to be respectful of neighbors, Groce said. 

“NIU is not seeking to extend the tentacles of [its] jurisdiction,” Groce said. “What we are seeking to do is not have a state mandate become a true nuisance to our neighbors and business owners.” 

The concern for council members was the enforceability of the ban. 

“It’s an unenforceable law,” First Ward Alderman David Jacobson said. “Whether you like it or not, [smoking] is legal.” 

NIU Police Cmdr. Don Rodman said the focus was on education. 

“The student conduct would be processed, and we would have an educational discussion,” he said. “We would then have the option to fine. In regards to employees, human resources would be the recourse.” 

Police won’t be targeting individuals walking down the sidewalk with a cigarette in hand, Rodman said. The focus is on large groups of students who loiter and smoke near homes and businesses. 

“The focus is to address those groups,” he said. “Individuals are not quite the concern. The concern is the nuisance of large groups of individuals.” 

Nine other Illinois universities that also face dealing with the state mandate are working with municipalities to find solutions to similar issues, NIU officials have said. 

Sixth Ward Alderman Dave Baker said he thought the city should let the ban play out for a few semesters before enforcing a city street ban and proposed a six-month postponement of the discussion. 

“Many other campuses are working on an ordinance and working on a solution,” Baker said. “Instead of being the ground-breakers here, let’s see what happens.” 

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