It is admirable that student organizations are raising money for the American Cancer Society.
What would do the most to combat cancer would be local action aimed at restricting smoking on campus. SUNY Buffalo, the village of Geneseo and Livingston County Offices have all banned smoking indoors and out. The City University of New York has banned smoking indoors and out on all 23 campuses. According to 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."
In December, the surgeon general concluded that "even brief exposure to tobacco smoke causes immediate harm to the body, damaging cells and inflaming tissues in ways that can lead to serious illness and death. Every exposure to tobacco from … secondhand smoke can damage DNA in ways that lead to cancer."
It is laudable that Geneseo has limited smoking within 25 feet of buildings, but this has been ineffective in protecting non-smokers. Smoking is routine just outside the doors of Milne Library. There is a coffee can for smokers to use on the steps behind Welles Hall. Smoke routinely wafts into my office. Even 25 feet away from buildings, one is forced to breathe secondhand smoke on sidewalks. More than half of all non-smokers in New York have elevated levels of nicotine in their blood and Dr. Thomas Friedman concludes that New Yorkers are being exposed primarily through sidewalk contact with smokers.
Despite the new policy and my efforts to avoid secondhand smoke by coming to campus as little as possible, walking indoors between buildings, shutting my window, and avoiding smokers, I was exposed to secondhand smoke on the Geneseo campus 77 times in the fall semester. Remember that every exposure to tobacco from secondhand smoke can lead to cancer – and I'll be exposed 1,500 times over a decade of working at the college.
It's great to raise money for the American Cancer Society, but what we need to do is act on the knowledge that we've gained. If the college is unwilling to follow the advice of the American Lung Association by instituting a curb-to-curb ban, the least it can do is limit smoking to designated areas.
Designated areas can accommodate smokers while allowing non-smokers to avoid deadly exposure to secondhand smoke. Signs could be posted that indicate "Danger, smoking in this area. Enter at your own risk." I'd encourage student groups to press the administration to follow the American Lung Association's recommendation that smoking should be banned on campus.
- Steve Derné
professor of sociology