Back to Smoke-Free Schools

Are our youth going back to smoke-free schools?  If they are enrolled at CUNY, they are.

As of today, The City University of New York (CUNY) will become the largest smoke-free public university system in the United States.  Their new policy prohibits the use of tobacco (including chew tobacco and e-cigarettes) on all grounds and facilities under CUNY jurisdiction, including indoor locations and outdoor locations such as playing fields; entrances and exits to buildings; and parking lots.

Also, the new policy prohibits tobacco industry promotions, advertising, marketing, and distribution of marketing materials on campus properties; and tobacco industry sponsorship of athletic events and athletes.

The CUNY Board’s action comes at a time when an ever-increasing number of colleges and universities are instituting tobacco-free policies. As of January 2, 2011, at least 466 colleges and universities had enacted smoke-free or tobacco-free policies for their entire campuses, indoors and out.

Smoke-free policies prohibiting the use of any tobacco products—not just cigarettes—should be the norm at all colleges and universities.  Big Tobacco is now marketing a variety of tobacco products to our youth, and we need to regulate their use and tax them just as we have cigarettes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported last month that a steady decline in cigarette consumption over the past decade had been partially offset by a big increase in the consumption of pipe tobacco and large cigars, both of which are not taxed as highly as cigarettes.

Tobacco companies increase the weight of small cigars slightly to qualify them as lower-taxed large cigars, and “roll-your-own tobacco” is relabeled as “pipe tobacco.”  The FDA banned candy and fruit flavors in cigarettes so that our youth would not be enticed by the taste, but cigars were not covered.  As a result, the use of flavored cigars appears to have risen among young adults and is also affecting the smoking habits of school-age youngsters.

Young adults ages 18 to 24 years old have a much higher rate of cigar smoking than older adults and are much more likely to smoke flavored cigars. The CDC survey also found high rates of smokeless tobacco use (12.9%) among high school boys.  Among high school students, rates of cigar smoking and smokeless tobacco use have stayed steady even as cigarette smoking has declined.

The CDC survey shows that we have made tremendous progress in the fight against tobacco use, the nation’s number one cause of preventable death. But it is also a timely reminder that the battle against tobacco is far from over and tobacco companies remain as ruthless as ever in targeting our kids, the replacement smokers they need for the more than 400,000 Americans killed by tobacco use each year. CUNY understands the need for policies prohibiting the use of all tobacco products.  It seems Big Tobacco is finding loopholes with existing policies.  Our elected officials and the FDA must be equally aggressive in taking action to protect our youth and to close the loopholes Big Tobacco readily uses to market their deadly products to our youth. We want all students to enjoy smoke-free campuses.