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SUNY Potsdam restricts tobacco use

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POTSDAM — SUNY Potsdam began its long-announced tobacco-restricted campus this year, limiting all tobacco use to approved zones.

The new rules apply to students, faculty and staff, and include all tobacco products. This includes cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and even electronic cigarettes, which often do not contain tobacco.

Several parking lots have been established as designated tobacco use areas.

It is important to understand the distinction between smoke-free, tobacco-free and tobacco-restricted campuses, said William G. “Chip” Morris III, SUNY Potsdam dean of students.

“It is easily misunderstood and it is often misunderstood,” he said.

In a fully tobacco-free campus there would be no designated areas in which smoking is allowed.

The restriction of all tobacco products, rather than just those that produce smoke, shows that this initiative is about more than just preventing second-hand smoke, Mr. Morris said.

“Just as we have a physical education graduation requirement, it makes for us to consider a holistic approach to people’s health to include any tobacco use, not just cigarettes,” he said.

SUNY Canton announced a similar program last year.

All SUNY campuses are implementing comparable initiatives, following a 2012 charge from SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher that all SUNY campuses become tobacco-free by the start of 2014 in an attempt to cut down on tobacco use by young people.

Ms. Zimpher called for the state Legislature to pass a bill banning all tobacco use on SUNY campuses, but that call has so far gone unanswered.

Without a state law, it would take an agreement from all campus employee unions to implement a complete ban, and many campuses have elected for tobacco-restriction policies instead.

SUNY Potsdam has not enacted a strict enforcement policy, instead counting on students, faculty and staff to respect the new rules on their own and encourage others to do the same.

An campuswide email states that everyone on campus is “empowered to appropriately and civilly inform a violator of the policy and ask them to move to a designated smoking area.”

Mr. Morris said it shouldn’t take long for the campus community to get used to the rules and follow along.

“We have a long history here of people doing the right thing. I am expecting a remarkably high volunteer compliance,” he said, adding that other SUNY campuses have seen good results without the need for strict enforcement. “I expect nothing less from Potsdam. This is everyone’s responsibility, to make people aware of their responsibility.”

Signs posted around campus will inform people about the new policy. The intention is not to force anybody to quit, Mr. Morris said, but those who do wish to stop their tobacco use will be able to get cessation counseling at the campus health center.

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