At Schenectady County Community College, fliers about the New York State Smokers’ Quitline are available in the school’s common area, and signs and television monitors inform students of an impending change: In September, SCCC will become a tobacco-free campus.
The ban includes all tobacco products, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco and pipes, as well as electronic cigarettes. The sale and distribution of tobacco products and merchandise on campus is also prohibited, as are tobacco advertisements, and the use of tobacco products is barred on campus grounds and in campus vehicles.
“Many colleges are going tobacco-free,” said Martha J. Asselin, vice president of student affairs at SCCC. She said that the new policy will help eliminate litter and make for a healthier campus. The school’s approach is educational, she said, with an emphasis on “changing the mindset of people who are smoking.”
At a glance
Other tobacco-free schools in the Capital Region include:
• Maria College
• Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
• Siena College
• Russell Sage College
• The College of Saint Rose
• Albany Medical College
Three other local colleges will be going tobacco-free this fall: Albany Law School, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and Hudson Valley Community College.
The schools received guidance from the Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition, an anti-smoking group, to develop and implement their tobacco-free policies.
Judy Rightmyer, the group’s program director, said research indicates that people who don’t become smokers by the age of 26 likely never will and that campus tobacco bans will make young people less likely to adopt the habit.
Rightmyer said that she was inspired to work with area schools to implement tobacco bans about five years ago, after meeting Ty Patterson, the director of the National Center for Tobacco Policy and an advocate for banning tobacco products on college campuses. At the time, tobacco use was permitted at all Capital Region schools. The first school Rightmyer approached was Maria College in Albany. Officials were receptive to the idea and eventually adopted a tobacco-free policy.
SCCC already has a fairly strict smoking policy, as smoking is currently limited to an on-campus shelter, Asselin said. Use of this shelter has declined in recent years.
“The number of smokers on campus has been dropping,” she said. “Among faculty and staff, smoking is minimal. The largest percentage of people who smoke on campus are contractors.”
Asselin said that students have expressed support for the ban on tobacco products. Because smoking bans are fairly common, “today’s students expect it,” she said.
Rightmyer said she advocates for the tobacco bans to include electronic cigarettes, which have grown in popularity in recent years.
For users, e-cigarettes are appealing because they are smoke-free and don’t contain cigarette tar. However, anti-smoking groups have expressed concerns, saying that the Food and Drug Administration has not fully studied e-cigarettes and determined whether they are safe and that people don’t know exactly what they are inhaling.
Rightmyer said that e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes and that permitting e-cigarette use in places where tobacco bans are in effect might make those bans harder to enforce. In addition, allowing e-cigarette use reinforces the idea that smoking is OK, she said.
“One of my concerns is that e-cigarettes will become the stepping stone [to smoking],” she said, noting that e-cigarettes contain nicotine.
In 2012, the State University of New York board of trustees passed a resolution calling on all 64 SUNY campuses to become tobacco-free by January 2014.
Three area schools have not implemented tobacco bans on campus: Skidmore College, Union College and the University at Albany.
Karl Luntta, a spokesman for UAlbany, said that the school’s buildings are all smoke-free and that smoking is prohibited within 30 feet of exterior ventilators and within 10 feet of doors and windows. A task force to study becoming a tobacco-free campus began meeting this year and is expected to send a report to the school’s president next semester, he said.
Skidmore College currently prohibits smoking in all indoor areas, such as the dining hall and campus snack bar, as well as in residence halls and apartments. In addition, cigarettes are not sold on campus.
According to Andrea Wise, a spokeswoman for Skidmore, several anti-smoking proposals will be presented to Skidmore’s Institutional Policy and Planning Committee for evaluation this fall.
One proposal would establish a designated no-smoking area on campus, while the other would establish no-smoking zones within a specified distance, such as 20 feet, of the entrance to all campus buildings. A third proposal would strengthen the smoking cessation programs available to the Skidmore community.
“It is anticipated that this conversation will take place during the upcoming academic year, with the goal of implementation in the year after that,” Wise said.
Union College currently prohibits smoking within 25 feet of campus buildings.
According to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, there are 1,159 completely smoke-free campuses in America. That number has grown from 530 campuses in 2011 and 420 campuses in 2010.