Want to get smokers away from doorways? Move the ashtrays

Smokers have learned to follow a simple rule for lighting up: Take it outside. It’s a basic practice that goes a long way toward keeping secondhand smoke away from nonsmokers.

UK wants more, though. The official campus policy prohibits smoking within 20 feet of doorways, windows and air intakes.

At least, that’s the on-paper version of the policy, which was adopted in 2006. In practice, few people know about the rule, and the ones that do are free to flaunt it because of lax enforcement.

If UK is serious about keeping smokers far away from the buildings that they frequent, then it first needs to relocate some ashtrays.

Currently, smokers are getting conflicting signals: The rules say they should stay a full 20 feet away from practically all buildings, but the receptacles for cigarette butts are often only a few steps from doorways and other off-limit areas.

Placing an ashtray near a building is basically no different than hanging signs stating “Smoke Here.” Moving all of the campus cigarette receptacles to at least 20 feet away from all doors and windows would eliminate most of the university’s enforcement woes.

But before administrators set out across campus with tape measures and dollies, they should reconsider whether the current policy is reasonable or even necessary.

With many buildings in close proximity, finding a spot at least 20 feet from all doors and windows could be difficult. And the policy could easily backfire if that spot were someplace like a high-traffic sidewalk or an outdoors common area.

A better policy would be one already adopted by the majority of smokers: Be courteous. As long as smokers aren’t clogging doorways, congregating by open windows or blowing smoke at passers-by, then there’s no need to push them farther and farther away. With even the slightest wind, it’s questionable whether the secondhand smoke of a few cigarettes will be any more dangerous than the exhaust from the thousands of cars that drive down South Limestone Street each day.

People who smoke on UK’s campus also happen to be students, faculty and staff. Instead of dreaming up new ways to push them away, university officials should realize that smokers and nonsmokers can easily coexist outdoors.