Oswego State intends to be a tobacco-free campus by January 2015, a measure that would come a year later than the SUNY-wide goal, but make the school among only a handful of SUNYs to adopt the policy on its own.
Jerald Woolfolk, vice president for student affairs and enrollment, said the university will begin to release marketing materials on the initiative over the next 90 days.
“You’ll begin to see a lot of messaging in the form of digital, posters, letting everybody know that by January ‘15, we will be a smoke and tobacco-free campus,” Woolfolk, who is the current chair of the campus Clean Air Committee, said.
In June 2012, SUNY announced on its website the intentions for a SUNY-wide policy that would ban tobacco products on all of its 64 campuses across the state by Jan. 1, 2014.
The policy came from a Chancellor’s task force and was voted on by SUNY’s Board of Trustees. SUNY became the largest public university system to call for such a measure.
The policy was tied into the passing of state legislation that would put the ban into full effect. The bills have stalled in both the State Senate and Assembly, putting the initiative beyond its original timeline.
Bills for the measure were never taken past committee and to a vote in 2013 in the Senate or Assembly.
An Assembly bill for 2014, sponsored by Brooklyn Democrat Assemblyman Walter Mosley, is currently being reviewed by the Assembly’s higher education committee. Tobi Jaiyesimi, Mosley’s chief of staff, said nothing specifically has caused the bill to stall, but it hasn’t been brought up to the committee’s agenda yet.
“We’re hopeful,” Jaiyesimi said of the bill going to a vote. “It is something we are going to need to see what progress it is making in terms of when it leaves committee.”
Similarly, a bill for the initiative has been proposed in the Senate by Higher Education Committee chairman Kemp Hannon, a Republican from Long Island, but has not gone to a vote.
The question many involved are hoping to solve is how to balance the health-based priorities of the initiative with the individual rights of SUNY students and employees.
Frederick Kowal, the president of the United University Professions union, which represents more than 35,000 SUNY employees, said in a statement that the union supports the idea behind the legislation.
“UUP stands solidly in support of having a healthy workplace, which this bill promotes,” Kowal said. “We are concerned about those from the campus community, including some of our members, who are addicted to smoking. We would hope that their needs are addressed, partially through the offering of smoking cessation programs.”
While the initiative continues to be a legislative priority for SUNY, it has also encouraged universities to pursue their own policies. SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher addressed the initiative in her State of the University address on Jan. 14.
“Then, toward a Healthier New York, SUNY remains committed to tobacco-free campuses and will continue to work with the sponsors of our legislation to seek successful passage,” Zimpher said. “In the meantime, we are continuing to design and implement strategies to drive campuses toward the tobacco-free goal.”
Multiple SUNY universities, including SUNY Cortland, Buffalo State and SUNY Upstate have adopted policies of their own.
According to a 2013 study by the American Cancer Society, New York has 67 smoke-free or tobacco-free colleges, including private schools. More than any other state.
“Legislation in and of itself is not required to implement tobacco-free policy,” SUNY Associate Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Lora Lefebvre said in an email. “SUNY continues to move toward tobacco-free environments while we are preparing the campuses for legislation. What is most important is for each campus to hold open dialogue with students, faculty and staff to develop plans of action that are progressive and inclusive.”
Oswego State’s policy will be implemented outside state legislation, as tobacco-free by 2014 was mentioned several times by the university in the last year.
In April 2013, the university announced a new policy that would require all smokers to stand 25 feet from any campus building, a 5-foot increase from the previous policy. Signs that informed students of the new rule also displayed the “Smoke-free Oswego 2014” slogan.
The 2013-2014 Residence Life room and board agreements had a provision about smoking on campus that read “Smoking is prohibited inside, and outside within 20 feet of, all residential facilities. (The College may become smoke and tobacco-free during the 2013-2014 academic year. If so, this policy will change.)”
The press release from the school announcing the 25-foot measure in April 2013 said the Clean Air Committee would be holding focus groups and surveys toward the smoke-free by 2014 goal. Woolfolk said plans for the measure were taken to the President’s Council after she took over the Clean Air Committee last January. The council decided to move forward to the measure, but to hold off until January 2015.
“We feel strongly that the community needs some education before we just go directly into it,” Woolfolk said. “Which is why we’re taking a year longer to do it, so we can make sure that everybody’s educated and knows what the expectations are.”
The details behind the measure and those expectations, however, are still in discussion, especially related to how the rule change will be enforced.
“That’s what we’re working on‒ the enforcement piece,” Woolfolk said. “Which will be challenging, because it’s not just for students, it’s faculty and staff as well.”
Lisa Evaneski, associate dean of students and Title IX Coordinator at Oswego State, said often a written warning is used for students who have been caught violating the 25-foot measure.
“Depending on a student’s history and if they have been documented for a similar violation –at that point, they may face adjudication of the case,” Evaneski said.
Evaneski added that it is possible the enforcement of the new policy would educate students about tobacco rather than have students face judicial action if caught smoking on campus.
“What we’re doing is looking at other SUNY campuses that have already implemented this policy and see what they’re doing in terms of enforcement to see if it would work on our campus,” Woolfolk said.
An education-based enforcement has been used at Buffalo State, which Brandon Schlager, a Buffalo State student and executive editor of the university’s student newspaper, The Record, said left the policy “without teeth.”
“In short, UPD and campus officials say, ‘Don’t smoke,’ but students say, ‘Stop me,’ and that’s where the conversation ends,” Schlager said in an email. “Packs of students still congregate just feet from entrances and faculty light up on their breaks.”
Schlager said the reaction to the ban on Buffalo State’s campus has been split among smokers and non-smokers.
“There seemed to be a mutual understanding between both parties, though,” Schlager said. “Smokers just want a convenient place to light up on campus (as opposed to being forced to walk off campus, which is what the plan calls for) and non-smokers don’t want to be subjected to unwanted smoke walking to and from classes.”
Similarly, opinions for Oswego State students on the coming ban will likely vary based on whether or not a student smokes.
Students are often seen sitting just outside the Penfield Library doors smoking, as enforcement in the area has been mostly hands-off despite the 25-foot requirement.
“It’s really quite the opposite, it’s like ‘smoke within 25 feet of the building,’ especially when it’s raining or snowing,” Jonathon Krupa, a junior public justice major and non-smoker said.
Krupa, who is a member of the Alpha Phi Omega community service fraternity, said he is in favor of the ordinance.
“I am personally for it, due to health concern, but also nobody really follows the ordinance and it creates so much litter that I have picked up over the course of my service fraternity work,” Krupa said.
Liz Burns, nurse practitioner and director of Mary Walker Health Center, said the initiative takes into account the environmental concern of smoke and cigarette butts as well as student health.
Burns added that from student intake forms it appears that “anecdotally, there’s fewer students smoking.” Burns said that there is no way to know whether the policies have contributed to the decrease, as factors such as increasing prices and health awareness have likely played a role as well.
Woolfolk said she too has noticed less smoking at Oswego State compared to other campuses she has worked at. She said she expects the campus will support the measure.
“Focus groups were done with the various constituencies and from what the committee took back from the focus groups, in terms of how they came to the decision and all that was taken into account, the committee feels that they do have the support of most of the campus,” Woolfolk said.
A website will eventually be launched with more information about the initiative, according to Woolfolk, and an addendum will be added to the next academic year’s Student Handbook.