For some people, having clean air to breathe is a necessity and a health issue that isn’t taken lightly.
One such person is Marshall McFarland, a University senior art major who said he is susceptible to asthma attacks when he is exposed to environmental pollutants, such as second-hand cigarette smoke.
“I just find it disrespectful when people smoke in public places,” McFarland said. “It’s just a message to me that they don’t value my health.”
For McFarland, as well as others who fought to have the campus declared tobacco-free, the vision of a smoke-free environment was finally actualized when the University declared in November that the campus would be declared a tobacco-free zone by fall 2012. The University will become the first school within the Pacific-10 Conference to announce intentions to be smoke and tobacco free.
“We’re sending a powerful message today that when you come on this campus, you join a community committed to mind and body,” Jim Bean, University senior vice president and provost, said at the press conference announcing the University’s decision.
Since then, Oregon State University has also followed suit and declared that its campus will be smoke free by fall 2012. However, this victory was not an easy one and was the result of numerous efforts on campus primarily spearheaded by the University Health Center.
Ramah Leith, peer health education coordinator and instructor, said the campus’ tobacco-free initiatives date back to 2003, when the University was given a grant from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle to distribute free nicotine-replacement products to students and faculty members.
A year later, Paula Staight, the health center’s director of health education, said she and other health center employees successfully advocated for the ban of cigarette sales at the convenience store in the EMU.
Leith said removing tobacco products from the store was important, especially because students had been allowed to use their Campus Cash to purchase it.
After testifying in front the of the EMU Board of Directors, Leith said the board agreed officially decided to ban the sale of tobacco products in the EMU in fall 2004.
“With stricter tobacco policies, more people quit smoking and less people start smoking,” Staight said. “Part of being an academic institution is educating and training people for a future life, so as public health practitioners, we didn’t see how smoking was conducive to a culture of an academic institution, especially when there’s all this data to show it’s a leading cause of killing people.”
Funding for tobacco-cessation products from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center ended in 2005, but Leith said the health center negotiated with its pharmacy to sell it to students, faculty members and staff at a price that is lower than in the community.
The following year, the health center intensified its efforts after the surgeon general released his report on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.
These efforts culminated in the creation of the Clean Air Project on campus in 2006 and the creation of the Smoke Free Task Force in February 2008.
The task force was created by Frances Dyke, University vice president of finance and administration, to address the issue of smoking on the University campus and to provide possible solutions. In April 2009, the Smoke Free Task Force released its findings and recommended that the University administration should establish a smoke-free policy no sooner than fall 2009 and no later than fall 2010.
To help these efforts, ASUO president Amelie Rousseau, as well as other students, rallied for the cause by appearing at University Senate meetings and holding a smoke-out event in response to a student-organized smoke-in rally in opposition to the tobacco ban measure.
“Everyone’s looking at U of O right now, so I feel excited that I was able to bring attention to the University for something besides athletics and be able to do something good,” Rousseau said. “We’re seeing this change in moving away from smoking areas all over the country over the last 30 or 40 years. A lot of public places are going smoke free because there’s an understanding that people are affected negatively even though they may not be smoking, and at a place of learning, that is something that we do not want. We want the campus to be accessible for everyone.”
According to Staight, data that the health center has gathered over time has shown that a majority of students, faculty and staff support the campus-wide tobacco ban despite the fact that it is not widely expressed.
“I understand that people don’t want to be told what they can or cannot do; I totally get that,” Staight said. “The people that are excited about it aren’t necessarily wanting to make that public, because they don’t want to alienate their friends who do smoke, and we don’t want to do that either.”
In addition, there is a significant amount of data to support these observations. According the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment, nearly 61 percent of University’s population comprises non-smokers who have never tried smoking. The study also found nearly 82 percent of the student population comprises students who are casual smokers who smoke cigarettes at most once per month, while only 5 percent reported being habitual smokers.
“I think it’s important for us to lead by example and show that we not only care about a clean environment by keeping cigarettes off the sidewalk and choosing not to support an industry that has a negative impact on us, but also show that we care about out own health. And by banning smoking on campus, I think that’s a powerful message to show that we care,” McFarland said.