School leaders seek to expand smoke-free plan

A University office is working with area landlords in hopes of getting them to change policy.

Barry Lytton

As smokers at the University of Minnesota are being asked to put out their cigarettes on campus, the school is branching out past its borders to encourage those living in the area to do the same.

The University’s Office for Off-Campus Living is partnering with the Minneapolis Health Department and Live Smoke Free to ask landlords in the area to update their leases to include a smoke-free policy.

The project, called the University of Minnesota Smoke-Free Housing Project, began last spring when the department approached University officials with the idea.

Jackie Siewert,  a community outreach coordinator for the Live Smoke Free advocacy group, said the organization has spent much of January talking to area landlords about implementing those policies and helping them to do so.

About half of the properties in Marcy-Holmes, Prospect Park and Southeast Como don’t have smoke-free policies in place, according to a 2014 survey conducted by the Office for Off-Campus Housing.

Because the campus area has strong neighborhood organizations and a high rental rate, it was an attractive option for the project, said Carrie Noble, who works in the University’s Office for Off-Campus Housing. In addition, many residents’ status as students also makes them easy to reach collectively, she said.

The groups that created the project aim to cut exposure to secondhand smoke in rental buildings in the coming years, said D’Ana Tijerina, a public health specialist for the Minneapolis Health Department.

“There is really no safe level of secondhand smoke, and smoke-free policies [are] really the only way to protect nonsmokers,” Tijerina said.

Dave Golden, Boynton Health Service’s director of public health and communications, said he thought the project was evidence of a larger nationwide initiative.

“It’s just like when the bars and restaurants went smoke-free with Freedom to Breathe,” he said.

Freedom to Breathe was an amendment to the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act that prohibited smoking in public places like schools, auditoriums and common areas in hotels. It took effect in October 2007.

Around that time, Tim Harmsen, owner of Dinkytown Rentals, said he decided that his properties would go smoke-free.

“It just seemed like a natural evolution,” he said. “[And] if you have somebody smoking in a unit — it is so much more maintaince and work and cleaning.”

CPM Companies owns several dozen properties in the University area, and all of them are smoke-free, said David Dosse, the company’s property manager.

Doran Companies owns six apartment buildings near campus, and those also have smoke-free policies built into their leases, said Vice President of Marketing John Wodele. 

“There is a need,” Tijerina said. “Student renters and community members are still exposed to secondhand smoke in their rental buildings.”