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It is about get a lot harder to get a nicotine fix at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Long a smoke-free campus, the school is poised to ink a deal with the city of Santa Rosa to extend the reach of its no-smoking policy and lay substantial fines on scofflaws.

School trustees earlier this month approved a deal that would allow campus police to issue citations enforcing a city ordinance against smoking not only on campus, but within 20 feet of campus. Penalties are $100 for a first offense.

In recent months, the fight over smoking centered on Elliott Avenue and the crosswalk between the library and quad on the north side of the street.

Smokers asked to extinguish their cigarettes while on campus would simply step onto the sidewalk and continue puffing in the high-traffic area, backers of the stiffer ordinance said.

There was little campus police could do.

"It's become known as smokers' alley and it's horrible to walk through there," said graphic design, photo and art major Amanda Swan, who is vice president of advocacy on campus.

"It was a bottleneck initially anyway -- that is the heaviest traffic area on campus -- then add 20 to 30 smokers standing there at a time," she said. "It was kind of like walking through a smokescreen and there were cigarette butts everywhere," she said.

But on a campus that stretches from Mendocino on the east to Highway 101 to the west, popping out of class or the library for a quick smoke has become an impossibility for even the most considerate smokers.

"I don't want to infringe on anyone's rights, but I think there should be a place for smokers, there should be some common ground," said marketing major Teresa Yost. "This is a huge school."

Having no designated space actually leads to fewer, if any ashtrays, and more litter, said Maggie Sheets, a religious studies major and a pack-a-day smoker.

"I understand why it's needed," she said of the increased regulation. "Certainly everyone's comfort and health is a concern of mine. However, for those of us who choose to smoke, it would be nice if there was a designated area where we could dispose of our trash and smoke and not bother people."

Regardless, Sheets said she typically checks her environs before lighting up.

"When I find a place, I always double-check, 'Is this cool?' I think we as smokers are resigned to this," she said, nodding at the spot on the north side of Elliott Avenue in front of an apartment building that has already become the go-to place to light up.

Students began agitating for more teeth in the existing campus policy late last fall when frustration built over other students who simply refused to snuff their butts.

Student leaders approached the city of Santa Rosa, asking for an agreement between the school and the city that would allow campus police officers to enforce a city ordinance that prohibits smoking within 20 feet of any area designated non-smoking. In this case, that is the entire college campus.

The change means that those afoul of the rule can be slapped with a $100 fine for their first offense, a $250 penalty for their second and $500 for every occurrence thereafter.

Prior to the deal, students caught smoking on campus might have earned a conversation with a school official and in the worst case, a suspension, said Doug Roberts, vice president of business at the school.

The new plan was backed by college trustees Aug. 11 and is expected to go before the Santa Rosa City Council within weeks, according to city attorney Caroline Fowler.

Little opposition is expected, according to city officials.

"Giving people citations is not what we want to do," Roberts said. "What we really want people to do is abide by district policy and not smoke here, especially on Elliott Avenue."

The current priority of district police is education, said Sgt. Don Silverek.

Signs are expected to go up, and those found smoking in prohibited areas are being given yellow cards that read, "WARNING: Smoking and use of tobacco products is strictly prohibited on all Santa Rosa Junior College District properties. Violators may be subject to criminal citations."

"We believe the first step in any enforcement is the education phase," Silverek said.

First-year student Gerardo Lopez said he was unfamiliar with the rules Thursday morning, after lighting up a cigarette while standing on the east end of Elliott Avenue, within 20 feet of campus.

"In the morning, here, if I'm nervous, I usually have one to calm my nerves down," he said.

After being warned by a campus police officer Tuesday about smoking in the parking lot, Lopez thought he was following the rules by standing on the sidewalk.

"It's alright, it doesn't make me angry," he said. "You've got to know the rules."

Nonsmoker Joey Lew, a food and nutrition major at the college, said the impact of stricter enforcement of tobacco regulations is already evident.

"I mean, it doesn't smell like Vegas," he said.

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat

.com. She can be reached at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@


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