Upstate News

July 31, 2006
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

SUNY Upstate marks first anniversary of its smoke-free initiative

Survey shows fewer SUNY Upstate employees are smoking

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Preliminary results from an employee survey show that SUNY Upstate Medical University may have encouraged more of its employees to stop smoking in the year that it has implemented its smoke-free campus policy. Aug. 1, 2006, marks the one-year anniversary of the smoke-free initiative on the SUNY Upstate campus.

The survey indicates that percentage of employees identifying themselves as smokers is now at 11 percent, down from 13 percent in 2004 and 17 percent in 2002. The percentage of New York state residents who smoke is 18 percent.

“I do believe that in some ways SUNY Upstate’s smoke-free campus initiative, though primarily designed to provide a healthier environment for all who work, visit, study and receive treatment here, has created more awareness and provided employees with more support in trying to break the smoking habit,” said K. Bruce Simmons, M.D., director of Employee/Student Health, who chairs the university’s Smoke-Free Advisory Committee.

More than 350 SUNY Upstate employees have taken up the university’s offer of free assistance for smoking cessation, including classes and nicotine replacement since it began offering them last year.

The survey also found that support for the smoke-free initiative remains strong. Of the 620 employees who indicated a preference on the survey, 86 percent said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the policy.

Simmons said that despite the overall satisfaction with the policy, work still is needed on educating visitors and others to the hospital about where the university’s campus begins and ends.

The policy prohibits smoking on all university property, but smoking cannot be prevented on city-owned property, which includes East Adams Street, the main thoroughfare that bisects the campus. “While one is not permitted to smoke on our campus, the adjacent city sidewalk means one is able to smoke in between our campus boundaries,” Simmons noted.

Simmons said the university has had brief discussions with city lawmakers on the possibility of passing local legislation that would prohibit smoking within 20 feet of the property boundary of a healthcare institution, such as hospitals and nursing homes. Simmons notes that the policy can be successful as proven in Sioux City, Iowa, where similar legislation is on the books.

Since going smoke free, SUNY Upstate has been cited as a leader, especially within New York state, in the trend toward developing smoke-free workplaces. Simmons and other SUNY Upstate officials have been asked to speak about SUNY Upstate’s process to become smoke-free at a number of institutions across the state. SUNY Upstate officials have already provided guidance and shared educational materials with a group of Albany area medical centers that plan to go smoke free in 2007.

“We’re pleased by how well this policy has been received, not just here at SUNY Upstate, but across the community and across the state,” said Simmons. “In the past year, particularly with the conclusive evidence stated in the surgeon general’s report about the immediate and long-term hazards of second-hand smoke exposure, there should be a clearer understanding why this policy made sense for SUNY Upstate and hopefully someday, all public places.”

After more than a year of planning, SUNY Upstate became the first local institution and the first SUNY campus to prohibit smoking anywhere on campus when it adopted a smoke-free policy Aug. 1, 2005. The smoke-free campus policy states that smoking is not permitted inside any Upstate building or vehicle, or on the grounds including parking garages and lots.

The employee survey, conducted in conjunction with the American Cancer Society, was given to employees as part of their annual health assessment. Completed surveys were collected from 737 employees.

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