Tobacco use continues to be a major public health problem in New York State that kills about 23,000 New Yorkers each year. For every person who dies from a smoking-related disease, 20 more people suffer with at least one serious illness from smoking. Tobacco-related healthcare costs paid by NYS Medicaid amounts to more than $10 billion per year and climbing (NYSDOH).
For many years the American College Health Association (ACHA) has had a position consistent with the U.S. Surgeon General that secondhand smoke is a class A carcinogen and there is no safe level of exposure. Therefore, ACHA’s position was that all colleges should work diligently to establish smokefree or tobacco free campus policies. Smoke and tobacco free policies are associated with dramatic reductions in exposure to secondhand smoke, increased quit attempts and reduced tobacco use prevalence.
In June 2012, the SUNY Trustees passed a resolution supporting that NYS should make all of their campuses tobacco free via legislation. SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher expressed her strong support for such a measure as a major part of the Healthier SUNY initiative in the new strategic plan.
Americans for Nonsmoker’s Rights has documented more than 1000 college campuses in the country that have implemented 100% smokefree or tobacco free campus policies. The American Cancer Society released a 2013 report showing that 67 campuses in New York (1/3) already have a smokefree or tobacco free campus policy while 29 campuses are in the process of enacting the policy.
Among the State University of New York Campuses, 15 (25%) of SUNY campuses have already established smokefree or tobacco free campus policies while another 14 (24%) are actively working towards implementing one. Hence nearly half of all SUNY campuses either have a smokefree or tobacco free policy or will have one in the next year or two (American Cancer Society).
The primary rationale for a tobacco free campus policy is to protect the students, staff, and faculty from the very real hazards of secondhand tobacco smoke. The secondary objectives are to promote healthy lifelong behaviors among the students and to respect others and the campus environment.
Great progress has been made reducing tobacco use among middle and high school youth despite the tobacco industry spending more than $1 million each day on promotion. Unfortunately, progress with the 18-24 age group has been stagnant. In 2011, college-age youth in New York had a smoking prevalence rate of 21.6% (NYS DOH, 2012). That rate is 58% higher than the 12.5% smoking rate found among the state’s high school students suggesting that a large number of youth are initiating cigarette use when they attend New York’s colleges (American Cancer Society, 2013)
Given that the leadership of SUNY are requesting a state law to support a desired policy change and since half of all SUNY campuses already have the policy or will soon, the state legislature should enact this law as soon as possible. After all, the SUNY Trustees are charged with overseeing almost all aspects of the SUNY System and the legislature should defer to their judgment on strengthening their campuses.
The bill will require that all state run campuses (not the community colleges) have a tobacco free campus policy by 9/1/16. The New York State Public Health Association feels that this should provide ample time for all affected campuses to prepare for the change. Given that half of all public sector colleges in New York have implemented smokefree/tobacco free policies, including more than 25% of the SUNY colleges, there are plenty of models and experts nearby to assist with the change.
With any tobacco restriction, concerns are raised about rights, enforcement, etc. These are fears that are often stoked by people who oppose the policy. The facts are that tobacco free campus policies are supported by a large majority of people on campus, implementation occurs with few problems (depending on the quality of the process to prepare the campus), and the policy gains support over time. Most local union leaders have actually been supportive of the change, otherwise, there would not be so many publically-funded colleges that have put the policy into effect. Even a majority of smokers come to appreciate the policy because 80% of people who smoke in New York want to quit and more than half try each year (NYSDOH). Smokers need support and an environment that helps them to quit and stay quit. This law will provide that assistance and create healthier, more respectful campus environments for everyone.
The New York State Public Health Association respectfully requests your support of S4853/A7277 and urges you to help pass the bill this session.
Photo: (L-R) NYSPHA Intern Angel Surdin, Assemblyman Mosely, NYSPHA Executive Director Erin Sinisgalli
The New York State Public Health Association (NYSPHA) is an affiliate of the American Public Health Association and serves as a statewide organization for members from all disciplines in the public health spectrum including state and county health departments, healthcare; policy and advocacy organizations; community based health and human service programs and workers; academia and research. NYSPHA advocates for policies at the national, state and regional levels that support equity in health status and an end to health disparities for all. NYSPHA is among the nation’s oldest, independent, nonprofit public health organizations. It’s the only broad-based statewide organization exclusively devoted to promoting and protecting the public's health.
For further information, or further assistance in this matter, please contact:
Michael Seserman, MPH, RD, NYSPHA Policy Chair at 518-573-8135.