Unenforced tobacco-free policy becoming a campus-wide smokeshow


Dave DeLuca/The Record

Two Buffalo State students smoke near the Campbell Student Union Quad. While there is a tobacco-free policy on campus, Buffalo State is not responsible for enforcing the policy.

Najee Walker, Associate News Editor

SUNY Buffalo State’s tobacco-free policy has been in effect since January 2011, making it the first SUNY school to enact a policy. Nearly five years since then, it would seem that the policy still may have some holes to fill. Students, faculty and even University Police Department officers are often seen lighting up outside, with little to no action taken against them.

While there has been an indoor smoking law in place for many years, which prohibits the use of smoking indoors on SUNY campuses, this more recent 2011 policy prohibits all forms of tobacco use on campus—no matter where it is used. This includes chew, dipp, snuff, and even e-cigs.

In 2011, when the policy was adopted, it was framed as an expectation of the community to observe the tobacco-free policy. Propaganda was everywhere to help people fully realize that this policy had been implemented.

Now, the most people will see is signage about being a tobacco-free campus.

“We were probably much more aggressive about the awareness in that first year or two,” Dean of Students Charles Kenyon said.

The expectation of the policy was also that non-smokers on campus would speak to smokers on campus and ask — politely — that they either cease smoking, or move off campus. The enforcement, according to Kenyon, should come from non-smoking students, faculty and staff.

“It’s a voluntary compliance,” Kenyon said.

The emphasis is placed on making sure students, faculty, and staff are being politely asked to refrain from using tobacco, and that there will be compliance.

“We are always trying to promote the realization that this is a tobacco-free campus,” said Theresa Stephan Hains, director of Weigel Health Center. “Sometimes people wonder about that because they do see people smoking on campus, or using other tobacco products. But, it’s a culture change.”

The point of Buffalo State’s policy, aside from most other policies at other campuses, is that it is a culture change. It is constantly emphasized that the policy does not necessarily “enforce” anything, as there are no negative repercussions.

“We don’t want to treat students differently from faculty and staff,” Hains said. “It’s not fair to enforce something with penalties on students, that you cannot enforce with faculty and staff.”

According to a study from Western Michigan University, many other campuses around the United States do participate somehow in enforcing a non-smoking or tobacco-free policy.

Many campuses fine violators a certain amount. Northern Illinois University, for example, fines $100 for violating the policy.

However, some campuses that do use fines as a repercussion also use it as a benefit to students or to the campus. At Argosy University, fines are put into a Student Scholarship Fund. At the University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg, they use the fines to fund cessation programs and educational materials.

Buffalo State does offer cessation programs and educational materials, as well. However, many students agree that the signage and propaganda for the awareness of being a smoke-free campus greatly outweighs the awareness of cessation programs and educational materials.

Although, you can find information about the programs on the Weigel Health Center website.

On Nov. 21, the Great American Smokeout comes to the Buffalo State campus. The smokeout, which is hosted by the American Cancer Society, is used mostly as an warning to students on ways to quit smoking.

“The Great American Smokeout is an event that happens every year, nationally,” said Paula Madrigal, the wellness and prevention coordinator who is in charge of most things that deal with the tobacco-free policy.

“It is intended to give a start date for people who have been contemplating to quit smoking. We’re having a variety of activities and information for students, available for whoever may be interested.”

Cessation and smoking education is a big deal for Madrigal. However, it seems that Weigel Health Center is having a difficult time getting students to participate in these events and educational programs.

“We’ve had a hard time pushing our cessation program,” Hains said. “We’ve promoted it and not many people have taken us up on our free cessation product. We’re a little surprised.”

Hains admits, however, that when she has brought up the fact that there is a tobacco-free policy in place, and that Weigel offers information and education on how to quit, she was laughed at. She admits that it is hard to advocate for being tobacco-free.

The Western Michigan University study states that most campuses also participate in cessation programs. Perhaps the most noted is Green Bay Community College in North Dakota. While they do fine people for using tobacco, they also offer a free cessation program instead of having to pay the fine.

SUNY has not had much major influence on Buffalo State’s policy, aside from giving out small grants to help with signage, cessation and promotional resources.

A year after Buffalo State’s policy, SUNY did begin asking all SUNY campuses to have some form of tobacco-free policy. Additonally, the SUNY Board of Trustees drafted a bill to make all SUNY campuses tobacco-free, yet there has been little word about how far the bill has gotten.

For the most part, it seems students do not mind smoking on campus. Rather, students believe that it is a choice and a right for students to do as they please on campus. Some non-smoking students feel that smokers should have a right to smoke where they please. It would also seem that many students do not feel right asking a smoker to stop smoking, or would feel that it is invasive of rights.

On the opposite side, some smokers feel that — if they were asked — they would move. Junior art history major Sarah Bosa said that if someone was being bothered, she would move. Bosa also said that during her first year at Buffalo State, she was made aware of the policy, but still saw people smoking.

“I would move to Elmwood,” junior history major Jonathan Dempsey said. “Most of Elmwood smokes anyway.”

Dempsey said that the policy seems very relaxed, that most smokers are still smoking, and non-smokers don’t seem to care.

While the awareness front may be working, the cessation efforts seem lacking. The culture of change that enforces the tobacco-free policy on campus is being met with a relaxed, yet visible culture of choice.

Non-smoking students — unless perhaps tasked by Weigel Health Center — will choose not to ask other students to stop smoking. Smokers and other tobacco users will continue to smoke on campus as they please.

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