Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The old college try

Sure, college is place to grow, a place to experiment and try new things. It's also a place where many young people might try their first cigarette. So, why make that unhealthy temptation any easier to fall prey to?

That was the message during yesterday evening's session "SFU: Smoke-Free Universities," where public health students and teachers shared their experiences campaigning for smoke-free policies on campus.

At California State University-Northridge, Kathleen Young, who's with the university's Department of Health Sciences, helped create COUGH (Campuses Organized and Unified for Good Health) in 2008. The neat acronym wasn't the group's original name — the switch came because members wanted the message to be about good health and not convey an adversarial tone toward smokers, Young told session attendees.

Young said there's five phases to such an effort: assessment and investigation, strategizing and planning, recruiting, campaigning and implementation. The California campus currently bans smoking within 20 feet of entrances (though, it's not always followed), and COUGH is hoping to convince university decision-makers to create designated smoking areas and eventually go smoke-free in 2013, Young said.

Already, more than 200 colleges and universities nationwide have tobacco-free campus policies, and the American College Health Association recommends campuses adopt 100 percent indoor and outdoor tobacco-free policies. Tavis Glassman, an assistant professor at Ohio's University of Toledo, has been working for more than two years to help his campus go tobacco-free.

Some lessons he's learned along the way? It's important to persuade a committee or coalition to endorse the initiative — "you don't want to be the only person taking heat on this issue," he told session attendees. Also, educate the campus on the need for such policies and conduct surveys before taking a vote on smoke-free sentiment.

The survey lesson came after a 2009 student vote on the issue, in which only 58 percent voted for more restrictive tobacco policies, with students, faculty and staff voting almost identically. Also, women tended to support the effort at a higher rate than men. Needless to say, it wasn't the voting result he had hoped for, Glassman said.

Other lessons Glassman shared: Always be ready to advocate, don't get intimidated by your opponents, and try to tie your tobacco-free initiative to the university's mission. Be tough, he said, and persevere.

— K.K.

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