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EvCC smoking ban created new problem for neighbors

EVERETT — It’s been almost four years since Everett Community College (EvCC) became a smoke-free campus.
To the college’s next door neighbors, it’s become almost four years of unwelcome cigarette litter and second hand smoke as students and staff have been walking off campus to light up, puff away and toss their butts.
The neighborhood’s chair said neighbor complaints
are being ignored by the college. A college official acknowledges the conflict. EvCC put in ashtrays along the edge of campus and the official said that custodians are assigned to keep things tidy.
In Snohomish County, 14 percent of adults, or a little over 1 in 8, smoke cigarettes, the Snohomish Health District reported in 2011.
A favorite spot for displaced student and staff smokers to congregate was a bus stop at 8th Street and Wetmore Avenue. It had an overhead shelter to ward off rain. The smell of smoke would make passersbys hold their breath for several feet or give
smokers a wide berth by crossing to the other side of the street. If the wind was up, even that wouldn’t help.
“We had neighbors mention it to us,” said Sabina Popa, program manager for Everett Transit.
Another issue was bus drivers making a stop to pick up a group of people at the shelter, only to find out they were there “just for a smoke break,” Popa said.
The problem came up so often that at the end of 2012, a few months after the college went smoke-free, Everett Transit took out the shelter and now just has a bench.
Everett Transit had fruitless discussions with EvCC about smoking student loiterers, Popa said.
“Since they did not reinstate their smoking shelter, we chose to pull our shelter out at the end of 2012,” Popa said, adding that there were no plans to reinstate the shelter at that location.
The college had a designated on-campus smoking shelter at the far east end until it was removed to meet the campus smoking ban that went into effect in September 2012.
The shelter removals may have dissipated the concentration of second-hand smoke somewhat, but that left the problem of messy cigarette butts.
Whittier Elementary School sits just south of the college. The Northwest Neighbor-hood Association, made up of several homeowners in the area, voiced concerns about young children who walk to and from school having to walk through clouds of smoke and see cigarette butts on the ground.
“Smokers could give themselves a better name if they just cleaned up,” said a frustrated Shelley Weyer, chair of the Northwest Neighborhood Association.
“Our neighborhood has had an ongoing discussion with Pat Sisneros (EvCC’s vice president of College Services) concerning this issue since (EvCC) became a non-smoking campus,” Weyer said. 
She feels the discussion has fallen on “deaf ears,” but concedes that the college tried remedying the problem by putting out cement ash receptacles on its sidewalk borders.
“That’s still college property, so how does that make it a smoke-free campus?” asked JT Dray, who lives across from the college.
Sisneros said this was not college property, but custodians still clean butts up anyway.
“We do our best to try and pick up the litter,” Sisneros said. “Our custodian grounds crew checks on the recept-acles a couple times a day to clean them. They also check along 10th Street and the city’s right of way. It’s not college property, but we pick it up anyway.”
Both EvCC’s Sisneros and neighborhood association members concur, however, that several smokers are just not conscientious about properly throwing away their butts.
Last summer, thanks to tinder-dry conditions caused by a record-breaking streak of hot, rainless weather, “fires would start because people were not using the appropriate cigarette disposal things,”
Weyer said.
Dray said he once saw one fire being frantically stamp-ed out in the beauty bark surrounding, of all things, a “Tobacco Free” campus sign. 
The college’s response was to re-landscape some of its border areas and place cement tiles around the ashtray receptacles.
“We’re looking to make a change this spring and summer on the type of bark to use and go to a different material that is fire-resistant,” Sisneros said,.“That is an issue we need to get control
of.”
“So now we have what looks like a giant ashtray,” lamented Dray about the area, pointing to a once landscaped, now gravelly
area in front of EvCC’s Olympus Hall.
Weyer believes the “true culprits” behind the problem are the college’s board of trustees.
“They are the ones that voted to agree with this
policy. No one has addressed their contribution,” she said.
Before the ban, students had designated areas on campus to smoke, but that had been difficult to enforce, said Sisneros. The majority of the school’s staff and student population were in favor of a no-smoking policy.
“We listened to their concerns about secondhand smoke,” he said, “we had just opened a new science and health building and Providence Hospital nearby had an operating clinic. Smoking on campus just seemed at odds with the direction we were taking.”
The Northwest Neighborhood Association will likely continue being at odds with the college too as long as displaced smokers keep heading their direction.
“If (EvCC) has a problem with their smokers and where they smoke, please don’t dump it on us,” Dray said, “They need to consider the consequences on the quality of life for the surrounding neighborhood.”

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