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Business Officer Magazine
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Creating a Tobacco-Free Campus

From “Business Briefs” department in August 2009 issue of Business Officer

By Linda Daily

Banning tobacco use on campus is gaining momentum. In Pennsylvania, such a ban has taken the form of a law, which took effect in September 2008, prohibiting smoking anywhere on state-owned higher education campuses. According to the American Lung Association of Oregon, 146 colleges and universities in other states, including the University of North Dakota (UND), Grand Forks, have instituted policies calling for 100 percent tobacco-free campuses.

While the time may have come for prohibiting tobacco use on U.S. campuses, adopting effective policies requires considerable effort, wide outreach, and ongoing oversight, as UND's journey illustrates (for more details, see sidebar, “Tackling the Tobacco Issue”). The university adopted a formal policy in October 2007, but its efforts to support a tobacco-free environment began in 2000.

Making the Economic Case

UND's leaders didn't need to conduct a study to know the institution would benefit economically from insisting on a tobacco-free campus. “We knew that any minor costs in implementing the policy would be easily offset by reductions in tobacco-related illness and lost productivity,” says Laurie Betting, UND's assistant vice president for wellness. “The Society of Actuaries,” explains Betting, “has determined that secondhand smoke costs the U.S. economy roughly $10 billion a year: $5 billion in estimated medical costs and another $4.6 billion in lost wages. In addition to causing direct health hazards, smoking contributes to college costs in other ways, including potential fire damage, cleaning and maintenance costs, and costs associated with absenteeism, health care, and medical insurance.”

The use of tobacco is prohibited within UND buildings, parking structures, walkways, arenas, university or state fleet vehicles, and on university-owned property not otherwise leased to another organization. (Tenants of leased properties are encouraged to establish tobacco-free worksite polices for their own employees). While UND has no jurisdiction over city-owned streets, sidewalks, and rights-of-way, the university encourages cooperation with the spirit of the policy.

Building Consensus

At the grand opening of the university's Wellness Center, in 2006, then president Charles Kupchella encouraged UND to consider becoming a tobacco-free campus. This event served as the springboard for a yearlong series of conversations and educational efforts. A small, but vocal, minority opposed to the policy communicated its views through graffiti, a protest, and a Facebook group. Campus forums allowed people to express opinions and ask questions. These comments provided the framework for the frequently asked questions that guided the work of a task group of students, faculty, and staff charged with drafting the policy and recommendations. The president, his cabinet, and the council of deans were on board, and resolutions of support were passed by the university senate, staff senate, and student senate before UND decided to implement the policy.

Enforcing the Ban

UND has opted to take “a positive rather than a punitive approach” to enforcing its tobacco ban, says Betting. “It is the shared responsibility and the right of all UND staff, students, and faculty members to encourage compliance with the policy.”

Anyone who observes an individual on the UND campus violating the ban may inform the individual of the tobacco-free policy.

“We realize that changing our culture to a tobacco-free campus is a work in progress,” says Betting. “We continue to address concerns from those who struggle with a lack of punitive recourse for violation and those who object to the policy and who question the university's right to restrict their behavior, especially in outdoor environments. In addition, we recognize that the population of our university is ever evolving. These issues magnify the importance of sustaining adequate communication, signage, and cessation support after the policy is in place.”

Tackling the Tobacco Issue

Higher education institutions considering a move toward a smoke-free or tobacco-free campus would do well to heed the advice of officials at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks: Don't reinvent the wheel. A multitude of resources is available to help you review the actions other institutions have taken and craft a policy appropriate for your college or university. Take a look at the following Web sites:

Providing Policy Insights

The UND business and wellness offices offer the following suggestions for ensuring a smooth transition to a tobacco-free campus:

  • Allow 18 months to two years to fully implement the policy. This allows time to engage all constituencies, communicate the policy change, and incorporate the policy and the rationale into various publications and orientation activities.
  • Plan for adequate signage. This is a key step, because everyone—including visitors—needs to be aware of the tobacco-free campus policy. Install clearly visible, permanent signage in high-traffic locations on the perimeter of the property and within the property, especially in areas where tobacco users tend to congregate. Steer clear of nonpermanent window clings, as they do not tolerate extreme weather conditions and they are easily removed. Existing sign posts can be used, when possible, to reduce costs. Obviously, signage costs and needs will vary depending on individual campus circumstances.
  • Designate one campus entity to address concerns and questions. The office or department should embrace policy communication and compliance as a part of its departmental mission. Look to those who currently have responsibilities in these areas to find the best fit. Clear communication of administrative support and expectations can assist in garnering departmental support. Dedicated staff time and resources are helpful in ensuring that a tobacco-free campus becomes a priority.
  • Establish ongoing policy communication. Call attention to the tobacco ban during orientation for new students, faculty, and staff. Determine the media that are most effective in publicizing the policy, and give special attention to materials targeting families and visitors.

Measuring Results

As proven by UND, achieving a tobacco-free environment takes time. But the results can be rewarding. Daily self-reported tobacco use on the UND campus has dropped from 10 percent in 2000 to 2.2 percent today. The university has also received the CEO Cancer Gold Standard accreditation from the CEO Roundtable on Cancer.

“We know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that tobacco-free policies provide an environment that enables and supports individual efforts to quit. And that is a driver of health-care costs and quality of life,” says Betting. “In addition, it is generally acknowledged that higher education plays a critical role in the direction of social progress. Americans still place a great deal of trust in higher education and we must continue to live up to the responsibility that comes with that trust. Creating tobacco-free campuses is part of the responsibility.”

SUBMITTED BY Linda Daily, Falls Church, Virginia, a contributing editor for Business Officer.