SA Assembly creates taskforce to review UB's smoke-free policy
Davis Podkulski said that UBreathe Free, UB’s smoke-free campus policy, is a policy “in name only.”
UB has not allowed smoking anywhere on its campus since 2010, but the university does not currently reprimand faculty, students or visitors for doing so,.
“You walk out of Capen [Hall] and go through a tunnel of smoke,” said Podkulski, a junior business administration major, before the Student Association Assembly Wednesday night.
The SA Assembly voted to create a taskforce Wednesday to review the UBreathe Free policy and strategize with the university to “implement a realistic, enforceable smoking policy that considers every students’ rights and freedoms,” according to the official motion. Podkulski and Jack Oshei, a sophomore political science and history major, motioned to create the taskforce and Podkulski was elected chair of it.
SA Assembly Speaker Melissa Kathan said it was great the assembly was taking the initiative on and it’s something that has been discussed throughout her time in SA.
UB’s smoke-free policy is not unique among SUNY schools, as SUNY encourages and assists its 64 campuses “in moving toward the tobacco-free goal in the absence of legislation,” according to its website. It also provides funding for schools to go to conferences to learn how to become smoke-free. There was a bill to make it a SUNY-wide law that campuses are smoke-free, but it died in state legislature committee.
Sharlynn Daun-Barnett, Wellness Education Services’ alcohol, tobacco and other drug prevention specialist, educates people on the policy and said that more students have been asking her about the smoke-free campus recently. Her office also provides a way for students to quit smoking.
“I feel like if students had passion not to make it a healthy, clean campus, and respect smokers and non-smokers alike, not make anyone feel bad, I think [a smoke-free campus] could really happen,” she said.
Podkulski and Oshei said some of the issues with the current policy are that it cannot be enforced and it also does not give smokers anywhere to smoke.
The university decided to not reprimand students for smoking on campus because it cannot do the same for faculty since it is not written in their union contracts. Daun-Barnett said most of those different contracts are renewed every three years, but it’s been a “challenge” to actually implement smoking bans in them.
“In the last five years it hasn’t been priority, even though we’ve had people support it in some of these unions, it’s always more about retaining benefits,” Daun-Barnett said.
Westin Doney, a junior biology major, said the policy is a “nice thought but ineffective” because students see professors smoking outside buildings and think it is OK to do so.
Daun-Barnett said students have been written up in the past for smoking within 100 feet of residence halls if a complaint is made, though. She said she’s had to deescalate people who were upset and confused as to why smoking still occurs on campus despite the policy, including people who have asthma or are pregnant. She has even spoken to a student who has lung collapses if she inhales a certain amount of smoke.
“They don’t understand why there is still smoking,” Daun-Barnett said.
Christian Bruno, a junior English and computer science major, said he’s had asthma since he was young and doesn’t want to “breathe in anyone’s smoke.” He also said the policy should be more strictly enforced.
The assembly taskforce is also aiming to find better solutions for students who do smoke. Kathan said the taskforce should be open to include students who smoke. Daun-Barnett said that although the policy is for no smoking anywhere, no one should be discouraged from taking the step to smoke away from others in their car in campus parking lots.
Mario Ayob, a junior political science and international trade major, said that he thinks “people would use designated smoking areas if we had them.”
But Daun-Barnett said that UB had designated smoking spots since 1994, but people did not use them – which eventually encouraged the university to develop the smoke-free policy. She said research over the last 10 years shows designated smoking spots aren’t effective for campuses and work places. She said people still huddle around entrances to buildings when it’s cold and that it would be difficult to build enough for everyone to feel they had one close enough to them. She also said that money used to build smoking spots could go to other things.
SA Assembly member Brian Kawecki said at Wednesday’s meeting that UB should give smokers a place on campus.
“If they don’t have that, then they’re going to hangout near the doors and leave butts,” he said.
Daun-Barnett said there have been complaints that UB no longer has containers to leave cigarette butts. She said that the reason for not providing them is that it could send a “mixed message” about whether UB was really a smoke-free campus. UB provided butt containers in parking lots for the first year of the policy.
Daun-Barnett said an option for students are pocket-sized cigarette butt containers that are heat resistant, which allows the butts to cool down so they can be safely put in trashcans. Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit organization, developed the containers.
Podkulski said that, although it may be hard to find a perfect solution, because UB is a research university the school should be able to put together some kind of plan that “works for everybody,” including students who smoke.
The taskforce’s members will be officially elected at the SA Assembly meeting on April 8, but may meet before then as well.
Tyler Szczesniak contributed reporting on this story.
Tom Dinki is a senior news editor and can be contacted at email@example.com