With focus shifting to leading healthier lifestyles, Plattsburgh State has found another way toward encouraging that goal.
As of June 2015, PSUC will become a tobacco-free campus as part of the larger “SUNY and a Healthier New York” initiative.

In 2012, when the SUNY Board of Trustees passed a resolution supporting legislation to mandate that all state-operated campuses become tobacco-free, the original date for full implementation was Jan. 1, 2014.

This goal has not yet come to fruition. The SUNY website lists that bills in both the Assembly and Senate from their respective higher education committees are under review, but there has been no motion to vote on such legislation in either house.

PSUC Vice President of Student Affairs Bryan Hartman said that despite having no law in place mandating the removal of tobacco usage on SUNY campuses, several schools have already implemented their own policies to varying degrees.

He said some have gone simply smoking-free, and some are what he called “pseudo-smoking free,” meaning that smoking is permissible only in designated areas, such as specific parking lots.

According to a list compiled by no-smoke.org, there are six SUNY campuses that are tobacco-free: Adirondack, Cortland, Erie Community College, Schenectady County Community College, Upstate Medical University and Westchester Community College. Oswego has already approved legislation to become the next SUNY school to feature a tobacco-free campus beginning Jan. 1, 2015.

Part of the delay that has prevented PSUC from joining the ranks, Hartman said, relates to various obstacles, including public opposition and enforcement strategy.

Hartman said tobacco users haven’t even been the most vocal members of the opposition.

“The objection isn’t necessarily coming from tobacco users,” he said. “Some are, but some are coming from allies saying, ‘Well, it’s their right to smoke.’ It’s this debate over whether the government should be legislating personal behavior.”

The most sensitive issue at this time, Hartman said, relates to the enforcement policy. However, the intent of the policy is not to necessarily change personal behavior or lifestyles.

“We encourage all members of the campus community to help promote a healthier campus environment,” he said. “The goal is to change the culture over a period of time and to communicate, without confrontation, that smoking or use of tobacco is not permitted on campus.”

Hartman identified campus community members as a key to enforcement, noting that the priority is raising awareness, especially in the policy’s early stages.

“We would hope that if someone sees someone smoking, to approach them politely: ‘Did you know SUNY Plattsburgh has a tobacco-free policy?’” he said.

Hartman said protocol for residence hall staff will remain mostly the same. The policy is to engage first-time offenders and inform them of college policy. Repeat offenders are typically referred to the Residence Hall Director.

The only change is that appropriate measures will be taken against offenders that are smoking under any circumstances, not just when they are smoking less than 25 feet away from building parameters.

The biggest dilemma with enforcement has to do with the school’s proximity to the city and the boundaries of PSUC’s jurisdiction.

“We’re in a unique situation,” Hartman said. “We are not a closed campus.”

The objective in this case, Hartman said, is to encourage people to respect the college policy even on sidewalks that are bordering the campus, such as on Rugar, Broad, Beekman and Cornelia streets, in addition to Park and Draper avenues.

While those areas are city property, and the policy is not being violated if people choose to smoke on those grounds, Hartman is hopeful that the policy will still be observed as a courtesy to the college and its goals.

Although PSUC already provides resources to students seeking assistance in cessation from tobacco, such as the Student Health and Counseling Center, efforts will be increased to inform students of their options, including public resources such as the New York State Smokers’ Quitline.

“We need to recognize that, for some people, this is an addiction,” Hartman said. “We’re not trying to shame people. It is what it is. If you want to quit and advance the goal of SUNY and a Healthier New York, we encourage you to quit. That’s up to you.”

While there are no specifics yet, Hartman said there is a PR campaign in the works through a joint effort between Director of the Center for Student Involvement Cori Jackson, Health Educator and Outreach Coordinator Rhema Lewis and Associate Professor of Public Relations Colleen Lemza’s Advanced Campaigns class.

“It’s going to take promotion in many different venues to get the word out,” Hartman said. “I’m certainly not going to lose sleep if people aren’t compliant immediately, or even in the first year. This is a long-term effort.”

Email Zachary Ripple at cp@cardinalpointsonline.com.

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