Category Archives: Colleges and universities
Many students staring or returning to college this fall may find something missing—exposure to tobacco products.
Last September the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), together with several key partners, launched the National Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative to promote and support the adoption and implementation of tobacco-free policies at universities, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning across the U.S. Initiative partners include the American College Health Association and the University of Michigan. Initiative staff members work closely with academic leaders, public health advocates, students, researchers, and others to help speed up the elimination of tobacco use on college campuses. “This is a lofty goal, but an attainable one, as we are witnessing exponential growth in the adoption of these policies by academic institutions in all regions of the country,” says Howard Koh, MD, MPH, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health who helped launch the initiative last year at the University of Michigan, which included an internationally webcast symposium at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
The initiative includes a website created to serve as a clearinghouse of key information to assist educational communities in establishing tobacco-free environments. The University of Michigan’s comprehensive smoke-free policy went into effect in 2011.
Smoke-free and tobacco-free policies are not the same, according to HHS. Smoke-free policies refer to any lighted or heated tobacco or plant product intended for inhalation—including cigars, cigarettes and pipes. Tobacco-free policies cover these and all other forms of tobacco (although e-cigarettes are still exempt on some campuses due to the still-evolving nature of the regulations). HHS officials point out that although some campuses are smoke-free while others are tobacco-free, the ultimate goal is for all campuses to eventually be 100 percent tobacco-free.
With the start of the fall college imminent or already underway at most universities, NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr.Koh about the success of the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative so far, and what’s ahead in tobacco control efforts for young adults by the Department of Health and Human Services.
NewPublicHealth: What success has the initiative seen since it was launched last year?
Dr. Koh: We’re very proud that the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative has accelerated rapidly. When we formally announced this in September of 2012, there were 774 colleges and universities that were tobacco or smoke-free and as of right now, the number has risen to 1,159—that’s an increase of more than one-third in less than a year. We are gratified by the positive response from colleges and universities and leaders from across the country who want to make their environments healthier.
NPH: What are the short-term and long-term goals for the initiative?
Dr. Koh: The ultimate goal is to have all colleges and universities in the U.S. choose to become 100 percent tobacco-free and we’re making steady progress towards that goal because we fully understand that prevention efforts must focus not just on children, but also young adults. The number of smokers who are starting to smoke after age 18 has increased. That number was a million in 2010 when it used to be 600,000 in 2002. We have figures that show that one out of four full-time college students were current smokers in 2010, which is higher than the national prevalence of 19 percent. These numbers underscore why college is a critical age to influence health habits of young adults.
Following several outbreaks of mumps cases on college and university campuses this past spring, the American College Health Association (ACHA) recently issued an alert urging institutes of higher education to keep mumps on their radar and require proof of complete mumps vaccination coverage for all students, which means having received two doses of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) usually between 12 to 15 months and then again between the ages of 4 and 6.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to half of people who contract mumps show very mild to no symptoms. However, the most common symptoms of mumps that may appear after 12 to 18 days of incubation include:
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen and tender salivary glands under the ears
While mumps is usually a mild disease in children, contracting mumps after puberty can have adverse effects on both the male and female reproductive systems and in some cases can affect the central nervous system.
According to the chair of ACHA’s Vaccine Preventable Diseases Committee, Susan Even, MD, most colleges and universities already require two doses of the MMR vaccine for enrolled students. Even is also the executive director of the student health center at the University of Missouri, where she says the health center participates in new student orientation. Incoming students who are behind on immunizations including the full course of MMR are directed to come in to the health center and receive the appropriate boosters, which they can charge to their campus account.
Public health experts hope high school juniors and seniors will add another question to their list as they begin to visit colleges this year: is the campus smoke free?
According to the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative—launched last month at the University of Michigan by the Department of Health and Human Services along with private, public and education partners—about 17 percent of colleges and universities in the United States already have tobacco-free (no form of tobacco allowed) or smoke-free (no cigarettes allowed) policies, and more schools are moving toward such policies.
Cynthia Hallett, executive director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights in Berkeley, Calif., says the trend toward eliminating smoking on college campuses began in the early 2000s. Before then, says Hallett, skepticism over student and faculty interest may have kept the schools from initiating policies against smoking. “With so many campuses now [outlawing smoking] and the growing number of resources available, such as model policies and guidelines for implementation and enforcement, it is becoming much easier for colleges and universities to initiate smoke- and tobacco-free policies,” Hallett says.
Hallett says effective arguments to push colleges toward tobacco-free campuses include:
- Tobacco use initiation peaks from 18 to 25 years of age. College attendance could be a turning point in choosing not to use tobacco.
- According to a recent report from the U.S. Surgeon General, about 25 percent of full-time college students aged 18 to 22 years old were current smokers in 2010.
- The number of smokers who initiated smoking after age 18 increased from 600,000 in 2002 to 1 million in 2010.
- Progression from occasional to daily smoking almost always occurs by age 26, and curbing tobacco influence on campuses could prevent a new cohort of lifetime smokers.
Recent campus initiatives to help students stop or never start smoking include:
- The University of Kentucky has an aggressive tobacco-free policy, which was implemented in 2009. Current efforts focus on educating new students about the policy each year and using innovative approaches to smoking cessation including mobile apps. The university also has faculty and students who are part of the Tobacco-Free Take Action volunteer group, who approach smokers and request they put out their cigarette, and also offer resources to help the smoker quit.
- Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania, only seven years old, has always been smoke free and its age gives it an edge over many other universities in that respect, according to a university spokesman.
- City Colleges of Chicago, which has 120,000 students, implemented a 100-percent tobacco-free policy across its seven campuses last month. The policy includes offering students a smoking cessation program called “Courage to Quit.” The college system conducted a survey that found that 85 percent of students, faculty and staff respondents believe a tobacco-free policy would improve health for staff and students. The policy is the first component in City Colleges’ overall Healthy Campus initiative, which will also include healthy and affordable food choices, green initiatives and healthy activities.
- In January 2012, University of California President Mark Yudof announced that all 10 University of California campuses would become smoke-free as of January 2014. University Student Health Services offers an individual tobacco cessation program that helps students identify triggers, reasons for quitting, and barriers to quitting as well as a variety of quitting techniques.
>>Bonus Link: Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights maintains a list of colleges and universities with smoke-free policies.