Published July 17, 2017
We’ve all seen people smoking outside Capen, Baldy, Crofts, Farber and other spots on campus, and noticed the cigarette butts littering the grounds as well.
But wait. Aren’t UB campuses and buildings smoke-free?
Well, yes and no.
UB instituted a smoke-free policy on Aug. 1, 2009, with smoking prohibited in all buildings and on the grounds — including in the parking lots and green spaces — of the university’s three campuses. During a yearlong transition period, smoking was allowed in areas of the parking lots that were more than 100 feet from buildings.
So in theory, UB has been a 100-percent smoke-free campus since 2010.
Yet 83 percent of respondents to the recent Healthy Campus Survey who are non-smokers reported they had been exposed to secondhand smoke at least once a week while on campus, with nearly 68 percent reporting being exposed to secondhand smoke more than one day a week. Fifty-five percent of non-smokers reported avoiding certain areas of campus to avoid secondhand smoke. More than 2,600 members of the UB community responded to the survey.
And cigarette butts are frequently found on the playground of the Early Childhood Research Center in Baldy, a situation that Helen Cappuccino, clinical assistant professor of surgery, calls “just horrifying, since exposure to secondhand smoke has been shown to increase the instance of several problems disproportionately in children, such as asthma and reactive airway disease.”
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported nicotine poisoning can occur in toddlers who accidentally ingest cigarette butts.
Faculty Senate Chair Philip Glick, professor of surgery and management, a pediatric surgeon and avid non-smoker, says he’s “astounded how much smoking is going on at the entrances to Capen.” And others say smoking is prevalent outside the loading docks at Cary and Farber halls on the South Campus.
Clearly, the policy is not working.
In an attempt to make UB truly smoke-free, the Office of Shared Governance — led by Glick and Professional Staff Senate Chair Domenic Licata — is heading up an effort to revamp the current policy.
“We set out with the intention of creating a shared governance initiative that is as inclusive as possible to make this truly a community effort,” Licata says.
The first step was to create a committee — Breathe Free UB — composed of administrators and more than 40 faculty, staff, students, alumni, union leaders (UUP, CSEA and APSU) and community health experts. The committee has focused its work in five areas: enforcement; culture, change and education; legal, labor and financial risks; wellness and sustainability; and communication, marketing and volunteer organizations, Licata says.
The committee also conducted the recent online Healthy Campus Survey to gather input from the campus community about its use of, and thoughts about, tobacco and other health and wellness behaviors. Kimberly Walitzer, deputy director of UB’s Research Institute on Addictions, oversaw development and implementation of the survey, with help from Michael Udin, a rising junior in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
Cappuccino, a member of Breathe Free UB, says it’s also important to revisit the no-smoking policy because UB has what she calls an “inferior designation” among universities and colleges with respect to its smoking policy “based on what is not disallowed and what’s not enforced.”
UB received a grade of “B” from the New York State Colleges Tobacco Free Initiative, and was not included on a list compiled by the American Lung Association of colleges and universities in New York State that are 100-percent tobacco-free.
And Licata points out that the state Assembly recently passed a bill that would ban the sale and use of tobacco on all SUNY campuses, with a Senate companion bill currently sitting in committee. If that bill also passes and is signed by the governor, it would take effect in September 2019. The Breathe Free UB committee is working with various advocacy groups to monitor and support this legislation, Glick adds.
Glick says the committee began its work by investigating why the smoke-free policy has failed.
“We did a ton of due diligence,” he says, noting that various campus constituencies were contacted to determine just what went wrong.
The policy for the most part has failed, he says, because enforcement is not equitable — and thus not enforceable.
There have been few consequences for employees and campus visitors who violate the policy — violations by employees are addressed through “educational and corrective measures,” while visitors may be removed from, or denied re-admittance, to the building or event where the violation occurred.
But student violators are referred to the Office of Student Conduct and Advocacy.
“Students are at jeopardy, but not faculty and staff and visitors,” Glick says.
In addition to enforcement, the committee is taking up the issue of vaping, notes Cappuccino, who spearheaded the initial no-smoking policy effort along with Gary Giovino, professor and chair of the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior. Vaping also would be banned under the revised policy, she says. “It poses health dangers and is a problem for youth, who increasingly choose it as their preferred way of smoking.”
The results of the Healthy Campus Survey have helped inform Breathe Free UB’s efforts to create a “version 2.0” of the campus smoking policy, Glick and Licata say.
In addition to the aforementioned points on secondhand smoke, the survey found that about 25 percent of respondents were not aware that smoking is not allowed anywhere on campus, and many respondents do not feel they are fully informed of the dangers of secondhand smoke.
The data gleaned from the survey, combined with the work of the committee, are being used to draft a report and proposed policy revision. The working draft will go to President Satish K. Tripathi this month for his input. The final report and revised policy recommendations will be sent to the Faculty Senate and the PSS for their approval this fall. And since this is a shared governance initiative, the various student associations, councils and alumni groups will be asked for their approval as well, Licata says.
Giovino, an expert in tobacco use and smoking cessation, and member of Breathe Free UB, notes that the culture at UB “changed somewhat” after the initial smoke-free policy was enacted. “Everyone I speak with who was around before the 2009 policy went into effect says that things are better. But people new to campus are shocked that there is so much smoking, given the signs indicating that we have a smoke-free campus policy,” he says.
“One thing I have learned over the years is that smoke-free policies are self-perpetuating — they have a positive kinetic — because the less people are exposed to tobacco smoke pollution (also known as secondhand smoke), the more sensitive they become to it.”
Giovino explains that tobacco smoke contains 7,000 chemicals, about 250 of which cause cancer or are toxic in other ways. “If you smell secondhand smoke, you are breathing cancer-causing chemicals that you otherwise wouldn’t need to,” he says. “And you may be exposed before you even smell it.”
Adds Cappuccino: “Every day people are exposed to smoke and smoking presents further jeopardy to all members of our campus community.”
Glick says the Breathe Free UB committee hopes the revised policy recommendations will provide the administration and all interested stakeholders with the tools to successfully change the current cultural norm at UB “from one in which smoking or vaping on campus is innocent and harms no one except the smoker/vaper, to one that has equitable enforcement policy and the ability to create real change and truly make UB a healthy, comfortable and safe smoke-free environment for its students, faculty, staff and visitors.”
I'm a non-smoker, but I think it would be wise and kind to create on campus designated, smoking-permissible spots away from buildings where smokers are free to smoke unmolested.
It is unrealistic to think that tobacco addicts will go eight hours without relief, and intolerant to force them to drive to Sweet Home Road to indulge their habit.
Smoke-free campuses might decrease smoking a little; they do a lot to foster anger among those of our community who have to smoke.
Thomas W. Burkman
As a woman who has been pregnant three times while employed at UB, I appreciate the policy (which went into effect during my second pregnancy).
I distributed UB Breath Free cards and kindly asked students to put out their cigarettes. However, I stopped when I was sworn at and treated with hostility by fellow females.
If this is to truly be a policy of the university, then the university needs real enforcement. Can it be enforced by University Police? I believe the uniform and real authority will help curb the breaking of the policy.
I am a non-smoker and it is nice to remember that I am not the only one bothered by the drug addiction that is smoking.
While I know that expecting tobacco addicts to go a whole workday without their fix is not quite possible, it is nice to see that more of an effort is being made to enforce the smoke-free policy. It angers me to see butts by the HEALTH SCIENCES Library on the South Campus (one common-sense place they should NOT be smoking).
Smoking is a choice to be unhealthy. Those who choose to be healthy should not suffer, too. There are people who are unhealthy by circumstances and to see healthy people give up good health to smoke is sad.
The signs that are posted as you are coming into UB state that we are a SMOKE-FREE CAMPUS. Those signs are misleading and should be removed until we really are "smoke- free."
Ann Marie Fraccica