For those who have attended a SUNY school, it's difficult to imagine a campus building without dozens of harried students standing outside, breathing down a quick cigarette between classes, collectively creating a barrier of smoke between the building and all those who wish to enter.
But that seemingly ubiquitous scene might soon be only a memory, as SUNY trustees voted last week to ban smoking on all SUNY campuses. They will now work with state legislators to try to write the ban into law.
"Tobacco use on college campuses is a serious public health issue for which SUNY can be a larger part of the solution," said Board Chairman H. Carl McCall. "By establishing a policy that will prohibit the use of tobacco among our 468,000 students and 88,000 employees on campuses across New York, we will have a positive impact on their health and that of our visitors."
SUNY would become the largest public university to enact such a ban in the country. The board, in a statement, said studies have proven young adults ages 18 to 24 have the highest smoking rates of any demographic.
Presently, smoking is banned indoors on SUNY campuses, but is still allowed outside. The new regulations would prevent the use of any tobacco products, including chewing tobacco.
The campuswide ban was met with praise by Blair Horner, vice president of advocacy at the American Cancer Society of New York and New Jersey.
"SUNY trustees recognized that their campuses are places of higher learning, not venues to begin a potentially deadly tobacco addiction," Horner said. "Their vote to support tobacco-free SUNY campuses correlates with a growing tobacco-free college and university trend across the state and across the country."
According to the American Cancer Society, the number of colleges that have banned on-campus smoking since the mid-2000s has multiplied by 16.
However, with little more than a week in this spring's legislative session and a slew of legislation still ripe for debate, prospects of a smoking ban appear dubious. The ban's proponents may have to wait until next fall for the law to be voted on by the Legislature, as details — such as penalties for not following the ban — will have to be worked out by lawmakers.
"I commend the board for making the health of these groups a priority and I look forward to working with legislative leaders to develop a state law that will make SUNY 100 percent tobacco-free by the end of next year," said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher.