Smoking on Campus: Opening the Dialog


Over the past several years our society has taken the responsible move to help protect the health and safety of our citizens by reducing and limiting areas where smoking is acceptable based on years of research which highlights the negative impacts of smoking.  The results of a statewide survey completed four years ago revealed that Hampden-Sydney College was the only college or university in Virginia that still allowed smoking on campus with virtually no restrictions. The findings of this survey led to the administration reaching the decision to make all buildings smoke free.

Obviously this has resulted in a cultural change taking place on our campus.  We have found that most people who live and work on The Hill comply willingly (or at least comply) and we commend those who do.

Several types of smoking receptacles have been used outside dorms and academic buildings to help the smoker discard cigarettes in a safe and aesthetically pleasing manner with varied degrees of success. The most recent design is simply a five gallon bucket with sand inside. These have proven to be effective to some extent although they are also being used for trash receptacles in some cases which creates a fire hazard. There were two such fires reported on campus last spring.

In a three week period last year, our campus community experienced two fires in mulched flower beds ignited by carelessly discarded cigarettes. One was at Gilmer Hall and the other occurred at Sagebrook Apartments. Both were fortunately extinguished before getting out of control or doing a great deal of damage, but the outcome could just have easily been very different.

On March 12, 2009, The Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity House at Washington and Lee University caught fire at 4:30 AM. One student was treated for smoke inhalation.  The damage to the house was estimated at nearly half a million dollars. The cause.... mulch ignited by a lit cigarette. Even though the house was brick, the front porch ignited and the fire reached and ignited the third floor and spread from there to the rest of the house.

A responsible smoker recognizes that once you light the cigarette, you own the fire until it is extinguished and will react accordingly. If the cigarette is simply dropped on the ground, thrown out of a vehicle window or carelessly tossed into a mulched flower bed the potential to ignite a fire is very great and may put the life and or property of others in jeopardy. This behavior or decision does not conform to the mission of Hampden-Sydney College "To Form Good Men and Good Citizens".

Most Virginia colleges and universities require that all smoking shall take place at least 50 feet from any building or structure while some designate a specific smoking area on campus.

This topic has been raised by the Hampden-Sydney College Safety Committee and it was agreed that input from students, faculty and staff would be sought as we endeavor to find a solution to a potentially fatal problem. You may email your constructive ideas for review and consideration by the Safety Committee to

Chuck Ironmonger
Fire Safety Supervisor