Walking across the campus of Oswego State, students can see one of the college’s most apparent forms of pollution: cigarette filters.
Although the college implemented a tobacco-free and smoke-free policy in 2015, individuals have not followed it. As a result, the Clean Air Committee is planning to reboot the campaign to end tobacco use on campus, and the college is discussing plans to increase sanctions for those who violate the policy.
“Although we have implemented the policy, the adherence to the policy by members of the college community has been disappointing,” said Barbara St. Michel, chair to the committee, in an email.
It is a common sight to see students, staff and faculty alike smoking cigarettes, vaping and using other tobacco products regardless of the policy because it is self-regulated, meaning it is the responsibility of others to ask tobacco-users to stop.
“Dr. [Jerri] Howland, the dean of students, was mindful to remind me that this is not a law, University Police can’t enforce this and ultimately it’s up to us to make sure we create this culture,” said Andre Nichols, a senator in Student Association. “But it’s a pretty confrontational one. It’s not something that is easy for a lot of people.”
There are some consequences if violators are reported, most likely by resident assistants or Oswego State faculty. Students caught using tobacco products on campus go through the student conduct process. Faculty and staff go through human resources, according to Jerald Woolfolk, vice president of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.
Violators will be given a warning the first time, according to the student handbook on the Oswego State webpage.
“So far, what we initially wanted to do was to create a culture where smoking would just be unacceptable on the campus and people would abide by it just because it was policy, and we didn’t focus so much on sanctions,” Woolfolk said.
The discussion to implement the policy started more than a year before it was enacted on Jan. 1, 2015 by the SUNY Board of Trustees, according to Woolfolk. During that year, the Clean Air Committee was formed, consisting of students, staff, faculty and administrators.
The committee campaigned to let tobacco users on campus know there would be a change and gave out resources regarding smoking cessation through the Walker Health Center for students and outsourcing for staff and faculty.
“We didn’t want to do it very quickly,” Woolfolk said. “We wanted people to have notice that whatever you need to do, you have a year to do it.”
As part of the student health fee for Walker Health Center, every student may receive free smoking cessation products such as nicotine patches, gum and lozenges, according to Angela Brown, director of Walker Health Center.
“Usually we get them set up with patches and then gum or a lozenge for in between,” Brown said. “Then they come and follow up depending on how much they need every week or every two weeks, you kind of slowly start to decrease the nicotine that is kind of like weaning yourself off cigarettes.”
The main goal for the policy was “to reduce our carbon footprint and to make the campus a healthier environment,” according to Woolfolk. In 2007, President Deborah Stanley signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment to make Oswego State climate neutral by 2050, according to Oswego State’s website.
“When a prospective student comes to this campus who are not sure if they want to come here, and they see cigarette butts and cigarette filters littered throughout the campus, what kind of message does that send?” Nichols asked.
It takes 25 years for one cigarette filter to decompose, and during that time, several chemicals are being released into the groundwater and the grass surrounding it, according to Jamie Adams, the program coordinator for the Office of Sustainability.
“It’s gross to throw them on the ground.” Adams said. “I used to smoke… I never left my cigarette butts just laying on the ground. Even as a smoker you have to be responsible for your own litter.”
During a town hall meeting held Nov. 16, Nichols brought the policy’s effect on sustainability to the attention of Stanley and proposed the addition of cigarette filter receptacles for those who violate the policy. As a response, Stanley suggested a civic engagement initiative for students to clean up the filters around campus.
“Do I think it would be smart to have a place to put them, even if it was non-specific, like there just happened to be an unlined trash can that had some sand in it so it wouldn’t catch on fire, and it was not specifically for cigarette butts? I wouldn’t be opposed,” Adams said.
Concerned with the impact of cigarette filters on the environment, Nichols said he visited different departments on campus to try to resolve the issue, none of which seemed to be of any help, he claimed. Taking matters in his own hands, he plans to propose a student-run operation to clean up the littered cigarette filters around campus next semester.
Nichols also said some of his constituents have expressed to him their concerns about if students are being punished more than faculty and staff.
“We are a union environment so employees have certain rights that are provided by the union,” Woolfolk said.
After the State University of New York as a whole tried to push all campuses to go tobacco-free, they received some backlash by a number of unions, according to St. Michel.
Nichols said he would like to lobby state legislature to make SUNY and City University of New York smoke-free and tobacco-free because it is already prohibited to smoke on other state property such as state parks.
“As far as I’m concerned, we need to foster an environment where we can perhaps enforce the policy, but still be respectful to the personal choices that people make,” Nichols said.
Taylor Woods | The Oswegonian