Tentative SUNY smoking ban calls for community enforcement

State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher recently proposed a policy that would make SUNY schools tobacco-free environments. This could prohibit use of all tobacco products on campus, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, pipes, hookahs and chewing tobacco.While this policy was originally expected to go into effect Jan. 1, 2014, it has been pushed back. According to Assistant Chief Scott Kenney of the Geneseo University Police, this policy wasn’t submitted to the State Senate and Assembly during the 2013 legislative period. Because of this, the legislation couldn’t be passed by the desired date. There is no set date for when this change will take place or a guarantee it will pass in legislation. According to Kenney, some schools, like Buffalo State College and SUNY Cortland have already adopted the tobacco-free policy, although it has yet to be officially implemented SUNY-wide. Geneseo, however, decided to keep its current policy intact until a final decision is made on the policy. As explained in the Smoke-free Workplace Policy, effective as of May 2004, “smoking is prohibited in all indoor areas that are owned or leased by SUNY Geneseo … Individuals who wish to smoke out of doors must do so away from the Geneseo buildings so that second-hand smoke does not enter the buildings. It is mandated that individuals stay at least 25 feet away from buildings and the perimeters of intercollegiate venues when smoking.” Kenney explained that because the current approach to smoking is a school policy rather than a state law, enforcement is not solely up to University Police but rather the people of Geneseo. “Everyone at Geneseo has a responsibility to enforce the smoke-free workplace act. You don’t call [University Police] because someone is smoking. If you see someone that’s not smoking where they should be, you have the right to go up to them and inform them of the regulations and ask for voluntary compliance,” Kenney said. If said person complies, the issue is dropped. If not, the issue is supposed to be brought to an employee of the college. If it is a student, it can be brought to the head of an academic department or as high up as the dean of students, depending on the case. If a faculty member fails to comply with this policy, they can be reported to Human Relations. Kenney said the enforcement of the tobacco-free rule on campus will depend on how it is passed. If it becomes a mandated SUNY policy but isn’t a state law, the current voluntary compliance practice can be upheld when the switch to tobacco-free takes place. If the idea passes through legislation and becomes state law, however, University Police would deal with enforcement. As explained on the SUNY website by SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall, “Tobacco use on college campuses is a serious public health issue for which SUNY can be a larger part of the solution. By establishing a policy that will prohibit the use of tobacco among our 468,000 students and 88,000 employees on campuses across New York, we will have a positive impact on their health and that of our visitors.” Geneseo also acknowledges the health benefits of a smoke-free environment. According to Interim President Carol Long, Geneseo has taken a health initiative and offered education on the dangers and health risks associated with smoking, also providing support for people trying to quit. While the health benefits of this policy are recognized, Long said that making campus tobacco-free isn’t as easy as it sounds. “One of the concerns about smoke-free that I’ve heard expressed is, ‘Where do you go on a residential campus if you’re going to remain a smoker?’ Our park in front of Doty [Hall] is a smoke-free park. Do they go on Main Street? Businesses on Main Street might not particularly enjoy that. Do they go down on Highway 63 and get run over by the semis driving past? You don’t want to put people in danger for a choice like this,” Long said. Another concern is regarding unions because it is part of working conditions to have a smoking policy on campus. Amidst these concerns, SUNY remains focused on the passing of the tobacco-free policy. If it is passed in legislation as a mandatory policy, it is expected to be implemented on the Geneseo campus as wells as on all other SUNY school campuses.