Professor Steve Derné: Geneseo blowing smoke on safety

This week, the American Lung Association released a report urging that more follow the lead of the 130 college campuses that are currently smoke-free, indoors and out.

"College students should end their academic careers with a diploma, not an increased risk of cancer due to years of secondhand smoke," said Louise Vetter of the American Lung Association of New York. "It is important that college students have the healthiest possible environment, and a 'curb to curb' smoke free college campus provides just that."

One morning, in the second week of classes, I watched 180 students stream into Sturges Hall, having to pass the 3 smokers who were creating a death-zone cloud. This is a typical gauntlet run by hundreds of non-smoking students each class period as they try to finds their way into buildings like Milne and Sturges, their safe passage blocked by just a few smokers.

I am continually exposed to deadly second-hand smoke as I walk from building to building. Smokers in walkways and on benches and in the entranceways of buildings continually infringe on my right to breathe nontoxic air. I find it difficult to find a smoke-free place to eat outside or to walk between classes without being assaulted by second-hand smoke or encountering pervasive cigarette-butt litter.

Even if a place is temporarily free from cigarette smoke, the danger presented by smokers is always present. I have had to leave outdoor events when smokers lit up and was even surrounded by cigarette smoke during a G.R.E.A.T. Day presentation in Welles when smoke wafted into the window.

Nationally, only 4.8 percent of first-year college students report smoking regularly, but the college has designated only two small outdoor patios as nonsmoking (one of which is currently closed), leaving the great majority of green space, benches and picnic tables for smokers.

Geneseo recommends that smokers stay 25 feet away from buildings, yet places ashtrays and smokers' stations within these limits. Despite the college policy recommending smokers stay 25 feet away from buildings, the college is aware that smokers routinely congregate near Milne, Sturges and Erwin, interfering with nonsmokers attempting to safely enter buildings.

The college currently forces the large healthy majority to endure the unhealthful behavior of a small minority. Instead, the college should limit smoking to designated areas, well out of traffic patterns, so that students, faculty and staff can freely move about the college, enjoy outdoor events, enjoy outdoor spaces and work in classrooms and offices without fear of assault by cigarette smoke.

Such a policy would provide a place in which smokers would know they could smoke without harming others; they wouldn't have to ask "mind if I smoke?" of everyone within 50 feet, but would know that the college had indicated smoking in that area would not harm others.

130 colleges - including 14 in New York State - are now 100 percent smoke free, indoors and out. Many other colleges, including two SUNY campuses, limit smoking to specified outdoor locations. Many others, including 14 SUNY campuses, have significant outdoor regulations on smoking.

SUNY Cortland designates an outside smoking area for each campus building. The University of Toledo bans smoking within 50 feet of major buildings. Eastern Michigan University bans smoking within 25 feet of buildings, places ash trays beyond 25 feet from buildings, and bans smoking in any outdoor area where seating is provided.

It is not too much to ask that smoking be restricted to designated areas, away from traffic patterns, leaving ample green space available for nonsmokers. Geneseo is far behind on this, exposing nonsmokers to daily assault.

Steve Derne is a professor of sociology.