Murphy urges colleges to go smoke-free

After Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy urged the state’s college presidents to ban smoking from campuses last week, Gateway Community College joined Quinnipiac’s North Haven location to become the second smoke-free campus in the state.

Murphy, who sponsored the Clean Indoor Air Act during his time in the Connecticut General Assembly, voiced support for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Tobacco-Free College Campus initiative, which was launched in 2012 to reduce rates of tobacco-related diseases. Currently, nearly 1,200 college campuses across the United States are smoke-free, more than half of which are also tobacco-free, according to an open letter Murphy sent to college presidents. Although Yale has designated certain parts of campus as smoke-free, the campus has not made any moves to change its current policy, University Spokesman Tom Conroy said in an email.

“Given the social and economic impact of smoking and the important role that colleges can play in reducing smoking, I urge you to join the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative,” Murphy wrote in the letter.

According to Conroy, smoking is not permitted in Yale buildings and is banned in the Medical School, except for in designated areas. The Yale Health complex is also smoke-free.

Though Conroy did not say whether or not Yale will commit to a full ban, he added that the University will respond to Murphy’s call.

“If Senator Murphy has sent a letter to Yale about the issue, he will certainly get a response outlining Yale’s policy,” Conroy said.

This is not the first time smoking bans have been brought up at Yale. In 2009, a Tobacco-Free Yale Workgroup committee was formed to investigate whether a campus-wide smoking ban would be feasible. According to a 2011 News survey, 40 of 75 students interviewed said they would support a smoking ban that included designated smoking areas.

After Murphy’s letter, Gateway Community College announced that they would implement a smoke-free policy as an effort to create a “go green” ethic to accompany the college’s new environmentally friendly campus, said Evelyn Gard, a spokesperson for Gateway.

Gard said student response has been mainly positive.

“We didn’t receive many complaints, only some pushback on where [students] can smoke, which is 25 feet away from buildings,” Gard said. “Most buildings are smoke-free anyway and the process was seamless.”

Other schools in the state, including Southern Connecticut State University and University of New Haven, are also considering smoking bans, according to university representatives.

Quinnipiac’s North Haven Campus has been tobacco-free since August 2012. The university also provided smoking cessation programs for students with cigarette or tobacco addictions when the policy was introduced, according to an email from university spokesman John Morgan.

In Connecticut, 19.9 percent of students currently use a tobacco product, according to a 2011 survey of public school students by the Department of Public Health. An estimated 444,000 Connecticut adults smoke cigarettes, according to a 2010 survey by the same department.

According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 3000 adolescents try smoking per day, and out of the 3000, 700 become daily smokers.

Smoking bans can be effective because they make smoking inconvenient, said Dr. Lisa Fucito, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Medical School.

Dr. Benjamin Toll, who developed a program to quit smoking at the Smilow Cancer Hospital, said he would support a smoking ban at Yale.

“Yale should go smoke-free because it’s the right thing to do,” said Toll, who added that Yale could be a leader in the smoke-free movement. “Yale Health needs to provide counseling and first-line drug therapy. If and when Yale goes smoke-free, it will need an infrastructure.”

Yale Health, which already offered the American Cancer Society’s Freshstart program to Yale employees and non-student Yale Health members, has made changes since 2011 to better serve the needs of students who want to quit smoking, according to Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin.

“After speaking with students and assessing the feasibility of many options including ongoing classes such as Freshstart  use of technology and one on one support, we went with a mix of technological resources and support to best meet students’ needs,” Genecin said in an email.

This fall, Yale Health began offering a 21-day online course called Craving to Quit for students who want to stop smoking. With Student Wellness subsidizing the cost of the program, Yale Health offers it for free, Genecin said.

Genecin added that at every office encounter, students are asked if they smoke and are offered clinical support to quit if they are interested.

According to Fucito, the most recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report on smoking prevalence showed that 25-44 year olds have the highest smoking rate, and rates among college students have seen one of the largest declines in recent years.

“It is also common for many college age students to identify as social smokers, meaning they may smoke occasionally,” McCarthy said in an email. “This is significant to note because this type of smoking still has negative health effects and can develop into smoking more often.”

When Yale was debating banning smoking in 2011, though, not all students shared McCarthy’s concern. A group of student cigar smokers called the Society for Intellectual Growth and Reinvigoration at Yale (SIGAR) came out against the ban.

“We pushed back against that. We were one of the reasons Davenport didn’t push students to smoke on less than savory streets of New Haven,” said Michael Knowles ’12, the former president and co-founder of SIGAR.

But Kate Wiener ’15, a member of the Yale chapter of Colleges Against Cancer organization, said she supports the ban.

Wiener said Yale has some specific challenges to becoming smoke-free, saying she doubts the area outside of Toads could ever be smoke-free. She said she believes the push has to come from college masters and deans.

Approximately one-third of young adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18 to 24 smoke.

Clarification: Feb. 19

A previous version of this article quoted Haley McCarthy, a Student Wellness Educator at Yale Health who is Freshstart-certified, saying that cigarette smoking is more prevalent amongst college students than any other age group. In fact, the most recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report on smoking prevalence showed that 25-44 year olds have the highest smoking rate. 

 

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