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Anti-tobacco activist speaks about respect at Clarkson University


POTSDAM — An anti-tobacco crusader made his way to Potsdam on Tuesday, bringing with him a fresh approach to the topic.

Ty A. Patterson was on Clarkson University’s campus Tuesday morning for the St. Lawrence County Tobacco-Free College Conference.

And his message was simple.

Instead of choosing to focus on the negative health effects of tobacco use, Mr. Patterson centered his presentation on one word — respect.

“I do believe health issues are important,” the director of the National Center for Tobacco Policy and Springfield, Mo., resident said. “I just think if I’m going to get conversation from people, I’m more apt to get it if I mention the respect issue because they’re not accustomed to hearing it.”

Smokers and tobacco users have been bombarded in recent years with graphic images on television and billboards, actively displaying the negative health effects of tobacco use.

While some data show these messages are effective, for many it simply falls on deaf ears, he said. Smokers have become accustomed to having the graphic images of a blackened lung or a jawless chewing tobacco user flashed in front of them, Mr. Patterson said.

And these pictures are not the best way to start a conversation about tobacco use, he said.

So Mr. Patterson has taken a new approach, touring the country and preaching respect for fellow students, for the university and the environment. Besides shining a new light on an old topic, it’s a way to rebut the most popular argument for tobacco users — that taking away the ability to smoke is an infringement on their rights, he said.

“The real challenge you have is most people have formed an opinion on tobacco,” he said. “When people have formed an opinion, it’s very difficult to get them to understand a different position.”

Mr. Patterson was on the SUNY Canton campus Monday, helping the university prepare to implement a tobacco-free campus plan by the spring of 2013.

When it happens, SUNY Canton will be one of more than 500 colleges across the country to have a no-tobacco policy. And that number is expected to grow, Mr. Patterson said.

But these tobacco-free policies go much further than just cigarettes and chewing tobacco, he said.

As a former dean of students, Mr. Patterson said he has noticed a lot of problems with respect on college campuses. Employees don’t feel respected by students and students don’t feel respected by the university.

Creating a tobacco policy may help change that, he said.

“The tobacco policy becomes a mechanism, a way, to begin to get people to think about respect,” he said.

But Mr. Patterson, who smoked for 30 years before kicking the habit, said it’s not enough for universities or businesses to implement a tobacco-free policy.

They have the responsibility to offer smokers a chance to quit with incentives such as nicotine patches or gum to help them cope with the addiction, he said.

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