Column - Tobacco ban a step forward for WVU
Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, June 13, 2012 01:06
University officials should be congratulated for assertively addressing tobacco use on campus. West Virginia leads the U.S. in smoking and is second in the use of smokeless tobacco. Increasingly, higher education institutions are taking steps to reduce tobacco use and promote better health. Beginning July 2013, tobacco use will be banned on WVU’s campus as a result of an updated policy adopted by the WV Board of Governors. The policy expands the tobacco-free policy adopted by the Health Sciences campus in June 2010. The revised policy was carefully studied for many months, and the long lead time allows everyone to prepare for the change.
WVU will be joining the more than 700 campuses nationwide that have gone smoke-free. By adopting a smoke-free and tobacco-free campus, WVU leaders promote a healthy environment and a progressive image for the University. Students’ and employees’ complaints about smoking drifting into air conditioning ducts and about being forced to walk through clouds of smoke to enter campus buildings should come to an end next summer once the tobacco-free policy is enacted.
Research shows that tobacco-free policies reduce smoking initiation, increase quit attempts and reduce exposure to secondhand smoke. Studies suggest that fewer students will take up smoking once they aren’t regularly exposed. WVU’s new policy will also minimize cigarette butt litter on campus and the costs associated with clean up.
WVU also sets an example for other colleges and universities in the state. Smoking on college campuses has become a public health concern and campuswide smoking bans have become increasingly more prevalent nationwide. Later this year, West Virginia Northern Community College will ban tobacco use on its campuses in Wheeling, Weirton and New Martinsville, joining the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg as the only other WV institutions of higher learning to make their campuses smoke-free.
Successful implementation of the new campuswide tobacco ban will require ample marketing, adequate signage and regular enforcement. Consistent communication about the policy will be essential and will require commitment from all levels of leadership from President Clements, deans and directors, supervisors to resident assistants in the dorms. University Police officers should be called upon to help inform violators of the new policy. These campus officials are trained to work with students and they have extensive expertise in promoting a safe and positive campus environment.
The new policy respects the wishes of the majority of students, faculty, staff and visitors who are not smokers. Yet, we must be compassionate toward tobacco users who will be affected by the change. On-site cessation services should be available for student, staff and faculty tobacco users who may be prompted to quit as a result of the policy. As a University community, we need to be good neighbors and plan for any impact the policy change might have on nearby residents and businesses.
The new policy banning the use of tobacco products at WVU allows for some exemptions for large-scale events that attract sizable numbers of off-campus visitors with approval of the vice president for Administration and Finance. Waivers to the ban should be issued carefully, and we recommend eliminating that provision after a year or two.
A large majority of those who use tobacco products become addicted, and West Virginia leads the nation in tobacco use. The tobacco-free campus policy supports WVU’s strategic goal to enhance the well-being and quality of life of the people of West Virginia, and it showcases the University’s commitment to students’ and employees’ health. Campus smoking bans promote better health, reduce litter and help prepare students for the increasing number of smoke-free workplaces.
We extend our thanks to all WVU leaders and officials who have come together to support the health interests of the Mountaineer community.
Frey-McClung is the Assistant Director of the Translational Tobacco Research Center. Geri Dino is the Director of the WV Prevention Research Center and a professor in the WVU Department of Community Medicine.