Gotham Smokeout

January 25, 2011

The board of the City University of New York voted Monday to adopt a broad ban on tobacco for the university system’s 23 campuses, making CUNY the largest tobacco-free public university system in the United States. The policy prohibits the use, marketing and promotion of tobacco on all grounds and facilities, including the areas outside campus buildings, and bars tobacco use during all events, including athletics.

“Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the world today -- and in New York City -- and this action will further reduce exposure to tobacco and improve public health,” said Benno Schmidt, the board's chairman, and Matthew Goldstein, CUNY's chancellor, in a prepared statement. The university, which serves 262,000 academic credit students and 269,808 adult, continuing and professional education students, has emphasized public health of late, building an extensive set of public health programs through its multicampus school of public health.

Transforming a campus to smoke-free is often easier said than done. CUNY’s previous policy prohibited smoking inside all facilities, including vehicles operated by the university. That is a far cry from banning smoking on outdoor campuses contiguous with the urban streets of New York City, where smoking is permitted.

“We already have some experience, because some of our campuses that have very little green space and are really right in the middle of streets and have already been trying on their own to have smokers not be right next to the doors,” said Alexandra Logue, CUNY executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and university provost. “Other colleges and universities have tried this, and so we also will be drawing on their experience. You use signage a lot and education and ask people to step away from where they shouldn’t be smoking.”

Logue said that CUNY’s approach will be comprehensive and will include a partnership with city health officials to provide training for those employees trying to quit smoking. She said that CUNY’s ban will ensure that smokers trying to quit will be able to leave buildings without seeing other people smoking. This, she believes, is the kind of “cue” elimination essential to well-crafted policies that can actually help those trying to quit.

CUNY’s decision follows hundreds of other colleges and universities that have taken tobacco-related action in the last few years. (The University of Michigan announced Monday final approval on a policy to make its campuses smoke-free by July 1.) As CUNY notes on a new website created in tandem with the tobacco-free initiative, according to the most recent surveys, 420 colleges and universities have instituted smoke-free policies, while 249 colleges and universities have instituted tobacco-free policies -- meaning that, in addition to cigarettes, pipes and cigars, smokeless tobacco products such as chew and dip are also banned.

CUNY is not alone among New York City universities trying to put a stop to tobacco use. At almost this same time last year, New York University announced a smoking ban within 15 feet of the entrances to all university buildings. Columbia University passed a similar resolution in December, banning smoking within 20 feet of university buildings.

Logue sees no comparison between these kinds of policies and the campuswide ban CUNY passed. “What we’re doing is a much bigger step,” she said. “From what we heard from places that have done that, it can be quite problematic. People get upset that somebody’s within the circle. You still have the issue of the litter, and, depending on where people are standing, you still have the issue of secondhand smoke. And when it’s raining that circle tends to shrink.”

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