UO receives accolades for tobacco-free policy

UO Health Promotion Director Staight campaigned against tobacco use for years
UO Health Promotion Director Staight campaigned against tobacco use for years

The UO has received the Fresh Air Gold Campus award for adopting a 100 percent tobacco-free policy, the highest level of achievement awarded by the Fresh Air Campus Challenge.

The award is the pinnacle of a challenge that brings together college campuses and local, state and federal tobacco control partnerships to help ensure all institutions of higher education in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington begin the process of going smoke or tobacco-free by the end of 2013.

Last June, Oregon Administrative Rule 571-050-0005, which restricts tobacco use on UO property, was passed and after many years of working on a tobacco-free campaign, University of Oregon Health Promotion Director Paula Staight finally saw the UO go smoke- and tobacco-free in September.

The UO policy is in compliance with Gov. John Kitzhaber’s executive order that will make state-owned buildings and properties tobacco-free by 2014. When signing the order, Kitzhaber said, “Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Oregon. By promoting a healthy environment for state employees, clients and visitors, we can create an environment that reduces tobacco use and protects health.”

The Oregon Department of Human Services Public Health Division reports that tobacco use kills nearly 7,000 Oregonians per year and using tobacco costs Oregonians more than $2.4 billion annually in medical expenses and loss of productivity due to sick days and early death.

Oregon State University also went smoke-free last September but the UO is the first university in the Pac-12 to go smoke- and tobacco-free. The UC system is going smoke-free at the end of the year.

“They are modeling what they are doing from us,” Staight said.

According to the Americans Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, the United States has at least 1,159 smoke-free campuses. Of these, 783 have a tobacco-free policy.

The smoke- and tobacco-free policy has been enforced by the UO Police Department, which issues warnings and asks smokers to step off-campus to smoke.

To help enforce the policy, resources – including maps with campus boundaries and information cards to hand to smokers – are provided by the Healthy Oregon campaign. A resources webpage also offers talking points for enforcers to use when approaching an on-campus smoker.

To help people better understand campus boundaries, more signage will be installed in certain areas of campus where smokers still gather to remind them about the policy. Also, additional trashcans will be installed in areas near campus boundaries to alleviate the problem of cigarette butt litter.

Only 5 percent to 8 percent of the campus community smokes. Even for that small number, the UO consciously chose not to have designated smoking areas.

“The focus is on getting people to quit, and designated areas do not discourage smoking,” Staight said.

As Kitzhaber said in his executive order, the impetus to go tobacco-free on public property is to encourage people to kick the habit. “Lozenges, the patch and nicotine gum are ways to manage the addiction and help reduce cravings,” Staight said.

Students can get both the patch and nicotine gum for free through the Peer Health Promotion office in the University Health Center. Faculty and staff are also eligible for resources and classes, with most insurance plans covering the cost.

The smoke- and tobacco-free policy is a huge public health issue, Staight said. The U.S. Surgeon General has said there is no “safe” level of second-hand smoke and a smoke-free campus not only encourages tobacco users to stay healthier, but it also creates cleaner air and healthier atmosphere for non-smokers.

Staight pointed to a growing awareness of clean air and limitations on smoking areas as signs of progress. “If Times Square and Central Park can be smoke free,” she said, “so can we.”

More resources to quit smoking are available at https://www.quitnow.net/oregon/.

- by Aria Seligmann, UO Office of Strategic Communications