In response to the United States Surgeon General’s recent report discussing the dangers of tobacco smoke exposure, the New York State Department of Health issued a press release addressing the health hazards of secondhand smoke on Tuesday, September 18.
According to Adjunct Professor of the Health Sciences and Director of Student Health Services Dr. Merrill Miller, the Surgeon General’s June 2006 report offered clear evidence that smokers are not only harming themselves but others as well as a result of secondhand smoke. The report also asserted that there is no amount of secondhand smoke that is safe to be exposed to, and that there are no effective indoor ventilation systems that remove the health consequences of exposure to tobacco smoke.
Although the Clean Indoor Air Act of July 2003 prohibited smoking in public areas, there remains no restriction on smoking in private places, which includes Colgate’s campus. Miller, who had worked with leading scientist Dr. Ernst Wynder in researching the connection between smoking and cancer in the 1960s, was adamant in her support for creating a smoke-free environment within the buildings at Colgate.
“We want to do everything to stop smoke exposure,” Miller said. “Most SUNY schools next to us don’t allow smoking in any university-owned buildings.”
Miller supported her stance with evidence from a study released by the state Health Department this week, which suggested that the Clean Air Act of 2003 has reduced the number of heart attack victims by eight percent as a result of limiting secondhand smoke exposure.
During the 2006-2007 academic year, Miller and other members of the Wellness Initiative took action. Discussing fire and safety issues of smoking in dorms as well as the ill effects of secondhand smoke, the Wellness Initiative proposed to the Student Government Association (SGA) to make all residence halls smoke-free. However, most of the SGA was reluctant to change its policy, calling it a personal rights issue and matter of personal preference. The SGA ultimately decided that this change must be gradual.
Consequently, this year, the administration changed its policy to ban smoking in the rooms in first-year residence halls, even West Stillman Hall, the long-time smoke-friendly dorm amongst first-year residence halls.
Miller supported this transition, explaining that one student’s decision to smoke affects all other students in the dorm by exposing them to secondhand smoke.
“What we think is the right thing for Colgate as well as the community and nation…is further recognition of the health and safety issues of smoking and further restrictions on places where people can smoke in college residence halls,” Miller said. “Students should have their rights as long as they’re not encumbering someone else.”
Miller approved of Colgate’s progress, however, and spoke of the great changes Colgate had undergone in the past 50 years to make it less smoke-friendly.
“Colgate has made changes,” Miller said. “I’m in my twenty-seventh year here, and when I first arrived here, there were cigarette machines and matches with Colgate [University] written on them that were given out.”
Now, Miller hopes that Colgate will become “an indoor smoke-free campus.”
“We [the Wellness Initiative] would like to go ahead and have people understand the public need and join the rest of the twenty-first century in recognizing the health and safety hazards of indoor smoking,” Miller said. “It truly is a ‘wellness’ issue because it affects the entire community, and it affects people in the long-term.”