More colleges and universites have enacted or will consider campus-wide bans on smoking.
Coughing through clouds of second hand smoke while trekking to class may soon be a thing of the past with a new policy aimed at cracking down on tobacco use on campuses across the nation.
At an event at the University of Michigan on Wednesday, Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, officially announced the launch of the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative.
The program seeks to promote healthier living and learning environments by urging college campuses to adopt tobacco-free policies. Currently only 17% of United States colleges are smoke-free — a total of 774 schools — according to the American Nonsmokers Rights’ Foundation.
Koh said it is critical that colleges make an effort to launch smoke-free programs as a way to discourage smoking, especially with data showing mounting numbers of young adults picking up the habit after age 18.
According to Koh, nearly one million U.S. citizens start smoking after 18 each year, up from 600,000 about a decade ago.
“So many of my patients suffered preventable suffering and died preventable deaths from tobacco dependence,” he said, “So it is very troubling right now in our country — despite the fact that we have had great progress in tobacco control in recent decades — that too many have taken this progress for granted and have ruled their attention elsewhere,” he said.
During the announcement, Koh stressed the importance of the national program in instilling a smoke-free culture that will spread to institutes of higher education across the nation.
“In the face of these challenges, the Tobacco Free College Campus Initiative that we are launching today represents an opportunity,” he said. “Campus policies, such as the ones that you enjoy here at the University of Michigan can protect health and support tobacco-free living for some 20 million students who are enrolled in institutes of higher learning.”
He noted the importance of the collaboration between officials on both the public and private levels in working collaboratively to enforce policies around the nation.
“The goals are very important for public health in our country, and the outcomes are tangible and very relevant,” Koh said.
The University of Texas at Austin is among the numerous schools that recently implemented tobacco-free policies, after launching its program this past April. The ban restricts use of all tobacco products on campus grounds and stresses non-aggressive enforcement of the policy that focuses on “education, awareness and a spirit of cooperation,” according to the school’s website.
The University of Miami enacted a three-pronged program that focused on staggered prevention, beginning with establishment of designated smoking areas for students and staff in the first phase, which finished this past spring.
Gilbert Arias, vice president of student affairs, told The Miami Hurricane that he saw a substantial decrease in the number of smokers on campus, but said university officials were prepared for non-compliance. Members of the campus community that don’t adhere are asked by members of the Smoking Ambassador program to put out the cigarette.
“Since the implementation of the policy there’s been a significant reduction in the amount of people smoking outside designated areas,” he said. “Unfortunately, we can’t be everywhere at once and you’ll always have a percentage of individuals who won’t comply.”
Ishwarya Venkat, a Michigan student studying public health, said she foresees the national initiative to be well received if executed properly, particularly after the success the University of Michigan has experienced since launching its policy on July 1, 2011.
“If it’s implemented in the right way, I see it being very successful. We have the ability to create an impact,” she said.
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