University Assembly plans to hold referendum to decide on campus-wide tobacco ban.

Stephen Speranza/Photographer/The New York Times

University Assembly plans to hold referendum to decide on campus-wide tobacco ban.

January 28, 2018

Students to Vote on Whether to Ban Tobacco From Cornell Campus

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This spring, the Cornell community will have the opportunity to vote on whether to ban all tobacco products from the Ithaca campus.

Currently, the referendum is slated to coincide with spring elections for the Student Assembly, according to Gabriel Kaufman ’18, chair of the Student Assembly Appropriations Committee. It is likely to be held in early March.

The referendum was officially adopted by the University Assembly in May last year through U.A. Resolution 9. It is meant to allow all members of the Cornell community to vote on whether Cornell should “launch a two-year initiative to become tobacco-free.”

The resolution was originally sponsored by Ulysses J. Smith, former chair of the Employee Assembly, and was introduced in March 2017. The Cornell community will have the opportunity to submit statements during a comment period before the referendum takes place.

Joseph Anderson ’20, chair of the Campus Welfare Committee and an undergraduate representative to the U.A., said the referendum is being held to give every individual at Cornell the opportunity to “have a say in this process.”

In September 2016, the U.A. referred the idea of creating a tobacco-free campus to the Campus Welfare Committee. After meeting with Cornell Health, Cornell Wellness, Environmental Health and Safety, Tompkins County and other constituent group representatives, the CWC recommended the U.A. hold a campus-wide referendum.

President Martha E. Pollack’s response to the approved resolution praised the U.A.’s commitment to addressing the health concerns of tobacco on campus and providing a chance for members of the Cornell community to express their views, but recommended that they hold at least one public hearing regarding the referendum.

“In addition to providing opportunities for dialogue on the use of tobacco on campus, a referendum — along with the attendant comment period and public forum –- would create an opportunity for a public education campaign on campus to enhance understanding about the negative health effects of tobacco use, an effort I would fully support,” she said in her statement.

Pollack did express some concern that some might see a tobacco ban as “a significant personal restriction.” She specifically disagreed with a clause in the resolution that would make the results of the referendum binding.

“Deciding whether to make Cornell’s Ithaca campus tobacco-free involves many considerations, and although popular opinion among our students, faculty and staff is chief among them, other concerns — about enforcement and the impact on staff on a sprawling campus — must not be overlooked,” she said in her acknowledgment of the resolution.

The Assembly took Pollack’s concerns into consideration. In response, Anderson told The Sun, the referendum will not follow the initial binding clause so university leadership will not be obligated to honor the referendum results.