OPINION: Great American Smokeout, a day of dialogue, compassion and encouragement in Brooklyn
I am a 19-year-old college sophomore at St. Francis College who was born and raised in New York City. Seeing cigarette smoke on just about every block that I walk down has always been the norm here. Now, do I like cigarettes or the smell of tobacco? Of course not. However, it is something I pretty much have had to tolerate living in New York City. Thankfully, the family members that are all involved in my life not only don’t smoke, but they don’t even tolerate smoking around them.
Here at St. Francis, you see many students smoking as soon as you turn onto Remsen Street, where the college’s only entrance is located in Brooklyn Heights. Whether these students are sitting on benches, walking in front of campus buildings or just milling around, it is nearly impossible to miss the toxic smell of cigarettes in the air. My concern is not only for myself, but for the many students, faculty and guests that enter the school and share our sidewalk space. Even more alarming is the fact that the building’s ramped entrance used by our differently-abled students is often obstructed by smokers and enveloped by a cloud of smoke. The question is: How can we help each other? What are the necessary steps to help both sides?
I have started to think about the solutions to these questions as a member of St. Francis College’s Clear Passages Committee — probably the best thing that I’ve been a part of at school. The committee’s main goal is to help the students, smokers and non-smokers alike, and to think about what is best for our campus and community as a whole. We understand, as most people do, that cigarettes are addictive, and we want to help those who are having a hard time tackling quitting. At the same time, we also realize how unfair it is for students, faculty, and staff to have to endure secondhand smoke exposure on campus. Based on a survey we conducted last year, we know that few members of the St. Francis community want to or can tolerate inhaling this secondhand smoke. We would love for the entire community to be able to enjoy the beauty of St. Francis College by sitting on our outdoor benches to enjoy a meal, meet with a colleague or simply relax in the sunshine. As of now, however, this comes at the risk of breathing in toxic secondhand smoke that is not only annoying, but extremely dangerous for some.
To address these issues, the Clear Passages Committee at St. Francis College formed a partnership last year with NYC Smoke-Free’s Brooklyn office, and it didn’t take long to realize how important we are to each other. Tobacco remains the number one cause of premature, preventable death in New York and NYC Smoke-Free has reminded us that comprehensive tobacco control works. But in this age of limited resources, collaboration is the key to success. We have not only talked about where to find support for our students who want to reduce or quit their habit, but also how to create the healthiest, most inclusive environment for our entire college community. We know that NYC Smoke-Free can provide us with the knowledge and resources needed to help us with our campus smoking predicament, and we have been valuable partners in helping to promote a healthier, greener, more thoughtful and respectful Brooklyn.
On this Great American Smokeout, a day created by the American Cancer Society and dedicated to encouraging smokers to quit even for one day, it is my hope not to judge or aggravate, but to raise awareness of the health concerns of many in our community and to encourage a dialogue about how to work together and support each other. We need it now more than ever.
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