ALBANY — New York has 67 smoke-free or tobacco-free college campuses, more than any other state in the country, and 29 more colleges in the state are working to adopt such policies, the American Cancer Society announced in a recent report.
Forty-seven percent of New York colleges enforce bans on smoking or tobacco products altogether or plan to soon implement campus-wide bans, the report said. There has been a thirty-fold increase in the number of New York campuses implementing smoke-free policies since 2005.
New York City’s public colleges have already gone tobacco-free, and the 64-campus State University of New York is seeking to ban smoking but needs legislative approval.
“New York has always been at the cutting edge on a lot of these issues,” said Blair Horner, vice president for advocacy for the American Cancer Society of New York and New Jersey. “The importance to us is to make sure that the people that go to college in New York state are not exposed to a known human carcinogen.”
As of January, 608 campuses nationwide had banned tobacco, and another 217 had banned smoking, the report said. Three states have passed laws mandating campuses be smoke-free, including Iowa, whose law also applies to private colleges, the report said.
Though some SUNY campuses have already banned smoking, the system would need a state law to implement such a sweeping change.
The SUNY board of trustees urged the Legislature in a June 2012 resolution to pass a law mandating that campuses adopt smoke-free policies by January 2014. But the bill has not yet been introduced, SUNY spokesman David Doyle said.
“We are in the process of trying to identify support of the legislation to get the law passed,” Doyle said. “We’re optimistic that we can get something done this legislative session.”
The session extends through June 20.
SUNY Cortland was among the first state campuses to ban smoking. The school announced in 2011 it would go tobacco-free, and after various public education efforts, the policy took effect in January.
The American Cancer Society gave Cortland an “A” grade for its policy in the report. The school is one of 48 in New York that are 100 percent tobacco-free, banning chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes as well as traditional cigarettes.
“The students we attract tend to be very active, health-conscious students,” said Frederic Pierce, vice president of public relations at Cortland.
Cortland has a large physical education program and has well-respected athletic teams, he explained.
“When you look at that, and you look at all the evidence there is about the harm that tobacco can do, it didn’t make sense any more for us to not take a leadership role in banning it from campus,” he said.
Roberts Wesleyan College in Chili also earned an “A” for its tobacco-free status, a practice that’s based in the school’s Christian roots, said Ruth Logan, vice president for administration.
Logan said the campus has always instituted a ban on alcohol, drugs and tobacco, in an effort to inspire students to lead a “wholesome” lifestyle.
“It’s not like it’s a new concept for us,” Logan said. “It’s just that the rest of the world has kind of caught up to our practice.”
Some other local colleges are also working on their policies.
• Monroe Community College, following a June 2012 resolution by the SUNY board of trustees calling for 100 percent tobacco-free environments on its campuses by January 2014, has started to draft a policy and implementation plan.
MCC’s Tobacco-Free Committee hopes to present a policy to the school’s board of trustees in June, said Janet Ekis, a spokeswoman for the school.
• The College at Brockport adopted a policy in 2011 that prohibits smoking on all college-managed property, with the exception of two parking lots.
• Nazareth College forbids smoking in its buildings as well as in main walkways on campus and within 20 feet of any entrance or air intake location.
• The University of Rochester prohibits smoking within 30 feet of university-owned buildings, while smoking is not permitted in the footprint of the Medical Center except for three “smoking outposts,” far away from any of the buildings.
• At the Rochester Institute of Technology, smoking is prohibited in any indoor area. Smoking is also prohibited in all RIT housing and within 25 feet of any residential facility.
A New York City-based smokers’ rights group that is currently suing state parks for banning smoking in certain areas argues that campuses are abusing their power by disallowing tobacco use, a legal activity.
Audrey Silk, founder of NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, said campus administrators argue they’re protecting non-smokers from second-hand smoke. But she claimed the leaders are actually trying to force students who smoke to quit.
“These are adults. At 18, these young adults should be able to make their own decisions,” Silk said. “They’re using force of law to indoctrinate (students) into their way of thinking.”
Horner said tobacco companies target young people, and while most people who smoke began using tobacco before age 18, the remainder start smoking before they turn 26.
“That’s really the college demographic,” he said. “So what we’re hoping to do is drive down smoking rates, and in the long term, drive down health-care costs throughout New York state.”