Designated smoking areas at SF State become social hub for smokers

Photo by Juliana Severe

Cigarette butts line the dirt patches along the Humanities Building on Tapia Drive. Photo by Juliana Severe.

Students show up to the two designated smoking areas of State Drive in small waves, chatting, mingling and lighting one another’s cigarettes. The smell of smoke lingers, isolating the smokers from the rest of the campus.

Instead of feeling like outcasts from the heart of the University, they have found a community that fosters socialization and companionship, but also addiction.

It takes about 10 minutes to walk from the Cesar Chavez Student Center to the closest DSA, located outside of the Towers at Centennial Square, and another two minutes to walk to the next one outside of Mary Park Hall.

The DSAs are the only places of campus-owned or leased property where people can smoke cigarettes without being at risk of a $58 penalty. They were created in response to SF State’s Smoke-Free Policy, which was drafted in 2004 to foster a healthier campus environment. While these areas have become more than a segregated and isolated section for smokers, they are also a dangerous local hang-out spot for dorm-residing freshmen.

“I’m glad we have them just because of the social aspect of it, because you meet so many people down here. And I don’t know, it’s kind of fun to come down here and see your friends and make friends,” said freshman Connor Garrett as he smoked a Parliament Full Flavor outside of the Towers where he lives. “This is where I have met so many people that I know in the the Towers, is at this DSA.”

Garrett said he has been smoking for the past year and a half, and that his habit increased as he started going to college at SF State this semester from frequenting the designated smoking area.

Freshman Marlene Dabestan also started smoking more often when she moved into the Towers. This semester, she said she currently smokes about a quarter to half a pack each day, which is five to 10 cigarettes.

She goes to the DSAs sometimes when she doesn’t want to smoke but then ends up having one cigarette just because she’s out there anyway.

“I just get more addicted from having them so recreationally,” Dabestan said.

While in high school Dabestan said she smoked for a year, then quit for a year, and then started up again around the beginning of 2011. She wants to quit again before 2012, she said.

“It’s hard ‘cause once I quit I’m going to always be coming back to the DSA,” Dabestan said. “The DSAs are where I’ve made all my friends.”

SF State health educator Albert Angelo counsels students who want to quit smoking. He recommends that students who are trying to quit stay away from friends when they are smoking because of increased temptation.

“In other words, if I had a gambling problem, the last thing I want to do is hang out at a casino, even if I’m not going to gamble,” Angelo said. “So I can hang out with my friends but when they all want to go to Cache Creek or something like that, I better not join them.”

Freshman Ben Meis quit smoking cigarettes three weeks ago and opts for his electronic cigarette or his hookah when he hangs out at the Mary Park DSA. He appreciates the social environment of the DSAs, calling the people who hang out there the most regularly, including himself, the “DSA family.”

“It’s definitely difficult being someone who’s trying to quit, being around so many cigarettes and around so many people that smoke so frequently,” Meis said. “The urges get worse when I’m around the DSA. But I think now it’s not so much as I come out here to smoke but I come out here to just hang out with my friends.”

Angelo said students hanging out with fellow smokers around the DSA are just a part of human nature like making friends when you take your dog to the dog park.

“You’re looking at a really healthy behavior in an unhealthy environment, you’re saying, ‘These people sort of hang out and they chat, they get to know each other and become friends,'” Angelo said. “It’s wonderful, but they’re doing an unhealthy behavior in that, so that’s my only concern.”

Not everyone wishes to socialize while at the DSAs. Freshman Julia Richards has been smoking since she was 13 years old.

She sat on a curb about 15 feet away from the benches of the Mary Hall DSA and smoked an American Spirit.

“I smoke a lot when I’m stressed. It’s enjoyable sometimes. It’s not really for social reasons. I don’t really like sitting over there,” Richards said gesturing over towards the crowd of smokers that surrounded the benches. “Because it gets really loud.”