Thomas Kerth has been smoking since 1964, when he was 15 years old. Now a professor of German language and medieval studies at Stony Brook University, every day he sits outside on a bench outside the Humanities building and takes out a cigar.
But come 2015, he might have to put it out.
University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. and his Chief Deputy Edward Summers are at the helm of an initiative to potentially ban tobacco on all of Stony Brook’s campuses.
“As a physician, I think smoking is terribly hazardous to one’s health,” Stanley said. “It’s a very dangerous drug essentially. So from that point of view, it’s an issue. But I think from the campus point of view, we see it more as a way to respect others as well, to be engaged in a behavior that can disturb other people.”
This is the university’s second try at banning cigarettes, e-cigarettes, hookahs, pipes and chewing tobacco. Last year, the State University of New York tried to pass a bill through the New York State Legislature to make all state colleges and universities tobacco-free, but the bill did not receive enough votes.
“But we still think it’s the right thing to do so rather than wait for legislation,” Stanley said. “We’re just moving ahead on this.”
The plan is still relatively new, according to Summers. The plan is so new that Summers said no one has been appointed to any type of formal committee, and there is no word on how the ban will be enforced. He was even not sure who would be giving the ban the green light.
Summers said he looked into different public New York colleges like SUNY Oswego and the University at Buffalo to see what worked and what did not. Both have already implemented similar programs. At this point, the only Stony Brook property that is smoke-free is the east campus.
“I do believe it’s the right direction for the university,” Summers said. “I think it’s become a national movement around institutions all across the United States.”
In the spirit of doing the best for the university, Summers said he plans to consult with groups of students and faculty. Some students already said they think the tobacco ban is a good idea.
“I kind of feel guilty smoking around people who don’t smoke sometimes,” Maryclare Anderson, a senior psychology major and a smoker of eight years, said. But not everyone felt bad about smoking.
“The other argument they use is ‘We’re doing this for your health. We want to help you,’” Kerth said. “But that’s such a pack of lies.”
The entire initiative also leaves some students, like Anderson, plain confused.
“I don’t know what the protocol would be,” Anderson said. “Would there be smoking areas? Would it be like in Six Flags where you can go to certain areas to smoke?”
Stanley said that despite some people’s objections, making Stony Brook a tobacco-free campus is ultimately the right decision.
“But I realize it will be discomforting for some people, and we want to try and help them as best we can,” Stanley said.
Even with the possible policy change, Kerth still plans on sitting outside with a cigar. He said that if the police ask him to stop, he will oblige out of respect. But he would rather pay the yet-to-be-determined penalty than conform to the tobacco-free campus.
“I’m not going to change my life because somebody tells me to,” Kerth said. “I thought that went out with the Spanish Inquisition.”
Correction: September 23, 2014
A previous version of this article referred to the University at Buffalo as “University of Buffalo.”