A recent health-focused initiative could convert SUNY New Paltz to a smoke and tobacco-free environment within the next few years.
More than one million of the approximate 20 million college students are “projected to die prematurely” due to cigarette smoking, according to the American Cancer Society. Tobacco use also remains the number one preventable cause of death worldwide.
In June 2012, Nancy L. Zimpher, former Chancellor of the State University of New York, delivered a memorandum to members of the board of trustees to enact a legislation for a Tobacco-Free SUNY no later than Jan. 1, 2014.
“Currently, over 70 percent of SUNY’s state-operated institutions are in some stage of tobacco-free policy implementation,” according to the office of academic health and hospital affairs at SUNY System Administration’s website.
Serious discussion and consideration to make SUNY New Paltz a smoke and tobacco-free campus began last year. If enacted, SUNY New Paltz would fall in line with other SUNY campuses.
While NYS has the largest number of smoke and tobacco-free colleges, 31 percent of colleges in this state currently have either none or few restrictions on smoking policies, including SUNY New Paltz. However, these new efforts towards implementing a smoke and tobacco-free campus may change this, and other SUNYs have reportedly been greeted with success.
“The vast majority of students, faculty, staff and administrators have been happy with the end of smoking on [other SUNY] campus grounds,” said Ellen Reinhard, director of the Tobacco Free Action Communities (TFAC) in Ulster, Dutchess and Sullivan counties, in a prepared statement. “There still are some violations and there always will be, but the environment has changed dramatically. The reports are that most students have been very polite and compliant when confronted for smoking, claiming that they didn’t know about the policy.”
Blaisdell and Michele Halstead, vice president of administration and finance, are the co-chairs of this estimated three-year long process. The current academic year will focus primarily on foundational methods, including the establishment of a diverse and knowledgeable committee, listening to the campus community to gather their wide-ranging input and researching best practices.
The following academic year is anticipated to consist of the development of a decided-upon policy and the output of information to the public that a smoke and tobacco-free campus will be in effect, beginning the 2020-21 academic year.
The current on-campus policy states that “smoking (including e-cigarettes, vaporizers or hookahs) is prohibited in all university buildings, and within 50 feet of any building entrance or open window,” according to Section C, Article 15 of the 2018 Student Handbook.
This committee is ensured to comprise of several organizations and departments, including the Student Association (SA), Residence Hall Student Association (RHSA), Facilities Management, Residence life, Emergency Management and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS). A five-year long grant totaling $625,000 for substance abuse reduction efforts was also given, Blaisdell said. Students, faculty and staff are ensured to be involved in this process.
“As a non-smoker, I like the idea, because there will be less cigarette butts on campus, which has been aggravating me,” said third-year early childhood education (English) major, Tori Kalberer. “A lot of people smoke on campus. I didn’t see it when I visited other schools as much as I do at New Paltz, and that was honestly a turnoff when I visited the school for the first time.”
However, not every person appreciates this effort to ban smoking on campus. Abi Mohrmann, 18, an employee at SUNY New Paltz, was unsettled when she heard of this possibility.
“I feel like there is this whole negative connotation that comes along with smoking, because people think smokers are bad people, [and] they associate them with drugs. [This effort] adds to the alienation of smokers,” she said. “I feel they can implement it, but it won’t necessarily be effective. Trying to put rules to enforce it will only get more rules broken, and more people in trouble, [because] you can’t just stop smoking cigarettes.”
While cigarette butt litter, secondhand smoke complaints and students with certain allergies are important concerns, the primary worry resides within the proven negative health effects that associated with cigarette smoking including cancer and diseases.
“The main goal is to provide a safe and healthy campus community environment, to respect the rights of our citizens, to walk through and breathe fresh air and have a clean place to reside and work,” Blaisdell said. “It’s really about the health of our students.”
Ultimately, whichever policy is decided upon will have to be approved by the College Council, per standard practice of the college, which is described by Blaisdell as a rigorous process.
“I want students to know that they will have a voice in the process, and that we’ve only just begun,” Blaisdell said. “This will be a year-long process to get their perspectives and engage them as partners in helping to solve this problem.”