By Nicole Breskin
GREENWICH VILLAGE — NYU’s new smoking ban has left students and locals fuming over the legality of policy that bars lighting up within 15 feet of all entrances, exits and air vents of university buildings.
“This is a personal violation of a basic legal right,” said Bob Donovan, a second-year NYU grad student. “I’m an adult. I can smoke on a public sidewalk if I want to.”
Many students and local residents, such as Donovan, are confused as to how NYU has a legal right to control public sidewalks.
The Department of Health confirmed to DNAinfo that the smoking ban is not covered under the city’s Smoke Free Air Act. NYU, however, is allowed to enforce the ban at an institutional level, a spokesperson said.
For NYU administrators, who are implementing the ban, it is "reasonable" and they argue that the legal logistic aren't even the point.
“Of course NYU doesn’t own the sidewalks. They’re public property,” said John Beckman, a university spokesperson.
“No one would claim otherwise and it’s not the point, whether one is looking at NYU’s buildings or at the many other buildings around the city where you will already see signage similar to that we propose.”
NYU Langone Medical Center first instituted a smoking ban on campus more than two years ago, followed by the university’s College of Dentistry in November 2009.
Dr. Jonathan Whiteson, who is head of the smoking cessation program at the medical campus, said the university-wide ban could go a long way in promoting healthier behavior in the Village.
“Smokers are not only hurting and harming themselves when they smoke but other people too,” he said. “We hope this will encourage the community to lead healthier lifestyles and respect people’s right to clean air.”
Employees of the medical center can be fired for repeatedly smoking within 15 feet of an exit, entrance or air vent. But Beckman said the new university-wide policy is more about education than enforcement.
“The point is about setting standards,” he said. “And setting a standard for the smokers in our community that permits people to go in and out of buildings without going through a lot of second hand smoke and that prevents cigarette smoke from coming into buildings from outside is a good and reasonable thing.”
The ban will be fully implemented by fall 2010.