March 13, 2009

Univ. Reconsiders Smoking

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Cornell’s smoking policy has coincided with recent New York state legislation restricting the venues where smoking is acceptable. In 2003, New York State passed the Clean Indoor Air Act, prohibiting smoking in all indoor work environments. Last year, Gov. David Paterson signed legislation to ban smoking in all dorms in both public and private colleges in the state. Cornell’s current smoking policy reflects these pieces of legislation by prohibiting smoking in undergraduate residence halls, indoor facilities, enclosed bus stops and University-owned or controlled vehicles as well as within 25 feet of the entrance to any building.
While the University has complied with state legislation, it remains to be seen whether Cornell will also adhere to a nationwide trend that many colleges have adopted committed to creating “smoke-free campuses.” Discussion about making Cornell a smoke free campus was recently proposed to the University Assembly by Beth McKinney, employee elected trustee and director of the Cornell Wellness Program.
McKinney said that she proposed the idea to the U.A. because the employee assembly had received several suggestions, prompting them to put it on their list of possible projects. The U.A. agreed that it was an interesting topic for discussion, but has not yet made any concrete plans.
According to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation’s website, as of Jan. 4 there were at least 260 colleges and universities around the country that have gone smoke free, including numerous colleges and universities in New York: Cazenovia College, D’Youville College, Maria College, State University of New York-Buffalo, SUNY-Upstate Medical University and Wells College.
McKinney said that there would be challenges if Cornell instituted this policy that these other colleges did not face.
“Most of the schools that have gone smoke free are much smaller than Cornell,” McKinney said, noting how Cornell’s size would make instituting the policy very difficult to enforce.
Cornell would also face a challenge concerning whether it had the right to take away people’s legal right to smoke. McKinney, however, explained the benefits of enacting this policy regardless of the challenges. The data suggests smoke free campuses increase the health of the on-campus population. Also, in terms of sustainability, trash removal and litter on campus are much improved with the implementation of a smoke free policy.
Some universities that currently have smoke-free policies were forced to adopt them as a result of state legislation, such as Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. The state of Iowa passed the Smoke Free Air Act in April 2008 which regulates smoking in public places, places of employment and outdoor areas.
“I personally think that overall compliance has been very good, but we do have a number of people that would beg to differ with that,” said Angella Jewett, emergency response preparedness coordinator at Iowa State. However, Jewett also added that there are still people who blatantly smoke on campus and the policy is difficult to enforce.
The University of Iowa, on the other hand, was actually planning to implement a smoke-free policy before the state law was signed; the state law simply forced them to push their deadline up a year. In fact, president Skorton created the committee to consider a University-wide smoke free policy when he was president at Iowa. According to Joni Troester, assistant director of human resources at the University of Iowa, the university’s hospital campus chose to go smoke free in 2006 as a part of their mission, after which Skorton charged the university as a whole to consider such a policy as well.
“It’s hard to say with 30,000 people what everyone thinks, but I think so far the response to the policy has actually been very positive,” said Tanya Villhauer, assistant director of Health Iowa, the educational branch of the university’s student health service.
Troester’s advice to universities considering similar policies was that “it’s important to visit with all the constituent groups on campus including faculty, staff and the student government. I also think it’s important to make sure you have some open forums, and most importantly make sure that smokers have access to programs that if they’re interested can help them stop smoking.”
For example, the University of Iowa offers some compensation for nicotine replacement products for students, faculty and staff, as well as counseling services.
The American Cancer Society’s website states, “Recent studies show that there is an intense need for effective smoking cessation programs on campus. Amongst all smokers, the prevalence by age is highest among college-age people (ages 18-24). The annual prevalence of tobacco use among all smokers since 1990 has remained virtually unchanged, meaning that other age groups are decreasing tobacco use, while college students are smoking at a greater rate.”
According to Jan Chytilo, director for strategic health alliances for the eastern division of the ACS, the ACS helps workplaces go smoke-free by helping to create policies and provide support.
“We would love to work with [the University]. We would help them in crafting a policy, setting up a timeline, and providing adequate training for supervisory staff that will have to enforce the policy.” Chytilo added that student and administrative input is key as it is important to communicate with constituents. Moreover, human resources would have to support tobacco dependence treatments — amongst other options there are small grants that can help with this as well as free training offered by the ACS to run Freshstart, a tobacco cessation program.
“It should not be promoted as negative. It should be promoted as wanting people to have a cleaner, healthier, safer environment to work in — we know you are valuable resources and we want to protect that,” said Chytilo.
McKinney said that if Cornell were to consider such a policy, to thoroughly weigh he pros and cons and get feedback from all interested parties would probably take at least a year, and making such a huge change would probably result in the creation of new policies that would also take at least a year.
“In my opinion you would need to create an informational campaign, you would need to come up with the actual policies, how they would be enforced and some type of incentives or programming to help people who want to quit,” McKinney said. “There are a lot of levels of complexity and it’s premature to speculate on what the University might do before we even start having a discussion.”
If current student responses are any indication, the University has a long way to go before considering the implementation of a smoke-free policy.
“I’m totally against it because we’re not disturbing people if we just smoke on the arts quad, it would really be a discrimination,” said Morgane Cadieu grad, a self-identified smoker.
Amanda Chow ’11, a non-smoker, also agreed, “I don’t think that’s fair, I think it’s ridiculous because our campus is really big and the 25 feet thing is already good enough, I don’t think it disturbs people when others are smoking when you’re walking around campus.”