An Open Letter on CUNY Tobacco Policy to the University Community

At the request of Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost Alexandra W. Logue has convened a Tobacco Policy Advisory Committee for The City University of New York. In accordance with a Board of Trustees Resolution effective January 1, 1995, CUNY currently prohibits smoking inside all facilities, including vehicles operated by the University. The Committee was charged with considering if—and how—this policy might be expanded to better protect the health of CUNY students, faculty, and staff.

The harmful effects of tobacco use are well known. Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the world today—and in New York City. Any action to further reduce exposure to tobacco will improve public health. Smoking-related deaths from cancer, heart and lung diseases, and other conditions account for more than 440,000 premature deaths each year, about one in five deaths in the United States. The U.S. Surgeon General has determined that exposure to secondhand smoke is dangerous to health and that reducing exposure will save lives and reduce health expenditures. Research further shows that any exposure to secondhand smoke—even outdoors—has harmful biological consequences. Further, removing all smoking cues facilitates quitting, and research demonstrates that 70 percent of smokers wish to quit. Expanding the University's policy would therefore achieve a dual effect: motivating current smokers to cease smoking, and safeguarding CUNY students, faculty, and staff—more than 85 percent of whom are nonsmokers—from the toxic effects of secondhand smoke.

New York City has been a national leader in acting to reduce smoking. Through education, taxation, support of cessation programs, and expanding tobacco-free spaces, the city has helped to reduce smoking rates below national levels. All New York City public schools and medical facilities are already tobacco-free both inside and outside buildings.

New York State Education Law charges CUNY with providing equal access and opportunity to academic excellence. Pursuing smoke- and tobacco-free initiatives enhances access for those students, faculty, staff, and members of the public who are medically sensitive to the effects of tobacco smoke in their environment, e.g., people with asthma and pregnant women. It also promotes basic values of 21st-century American higher education: cultivating respect for others, emphasizing the importance of health and wellness, supporting environmental sustainability, and preparing students for professional success in increasingly tobacco-free workplaces.

Across the United States, an ever-increasing number of colleges and universities are instituting tobacco-free policies: As of July 5, 2010, at least 420 colleges and universities had enacted smoke-free or tobacco-free policies <pdf>for their entire campuses (indoors and out); about another 80 had enacted policies that include minor exemptions for remote outdoor areas.

As the nation's largest urban public university, as a source of  thousands of health-professions graduates, and as the home of the new CUNY School of Public Health that focuses on prevention of chronic diseases and reducing health inequities, CUNY has an opportunity—and a responsibility—to set new standards for healthy universities. In order to realize these opportunities, the Committee has been engaging in careful deliberations concerning the best ways to expand and enhance the University's tobacco policy. The Committee understands that despite pervasive public awareness of tobacco's harmfulness, tobacco policy can be a sensitive subject, evoking strong sentiments from individuals on a range of issues. Therefore, the Committee is soliciting input from the many constituencies at CUNY.

As we reflect on how best to protect the well-being of CUNY students, faculty and staff and to respect the rights of individuals, we ask members of the CUNY community to comment on the range of policy proposals that the Committee is considering, as listed below.  We have established this new website, which includes additional information on tobacco policy and universities at

Policy Proposals Under Consideration:

1. The City University of New York will update and expand the current policy. It will aim toward reducing the use of tobacco and the exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke in all locations in which students are provided instruction and employees work. This would include college buildings, office buildings, and grounds and facilities under CUNY jurisdiction. Smoking prohibitions affecting all grounds and other CUNY outdoor facilities, including playing fields, entrances and exits to buildings, and parking lots, will also be considered.

2. To encourage and support CUNY students, faculty and staff who want to quit smoking (surveys show that 70 percent of New York City smokers want to quit), CUNY should offer individuals  free, expanded cessation programs throughout the University and referrals to such services in  the wider community.  Any new programs should begin significantly in advance of full implementation of any enhanced tobacco policy.

3. Following guidelines from the American College Health Association, all tobacco industry promotions, advertising, marketing, and distribution should be prohibited on campus properties. Tobacco industry sponsorship of athletic events and athletes should be prohibited. Tobacco companies should not be permitted to conduct student recruitment or employment activities on CUNY campuses. CUNY would accept no direct or indirect funding from tobacco companies.

4. Any policy proposal enacted by the Board of Trustees should account for differences among CUNY campuses, providing for each college to develop its own implementation plan. Although the University would designate a date by which the policy should be fully implemented, colleges would have the authority to delineate the preparatory phases most appropriate to their circumstances. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has offered to assist both CUNY Central and individual CUNY colleges as we work to expand smoke-free air policies.

5. Given that other colleges and universities have not encountered significant problems enforcing tobacco-free policies, CUNY should learn from their experiences in determining the best ways to promote enforcement and managing the consequences of non-compliance.

The Committee seeks comments and suggestions from the CUNY community that might help shape the form and implementation of an expanded policy. We thank you in advance for your contributions to our collective efforts to enhance health and wellness at The City University of New York, and we look forward to hearing from you soon.