Published on August 15th, 2017 | by Deb Wolf0
Vermont Colleges are Giving Tobacco the Boot
Current prEvents August 12, 2017 Times Argus
By Mariah Sanderson
Tobacco use is still the leading cause of premature and preventable death, and is responsible for 480,000 deaths a year in the United States. Here in Vermont, the costs of smoking are estimated at $348 million in medical expenses and result in about 1,000 deaths each year. The good news is that research shows that 99% of smokers started smoking before their 26th birthday. So efforts to support tobacco prevention and cessation at early ages can have a profound impact.
Timing is crucial. College is often a time that determines whether or not a young adult will pick up smoking socially and eventually become a lifelong smoker. The US Surgeon General reports that this is because nicotine is a highly addictive drug and adolescents, who are still going through critical periods of growth and development, are particularly vulnerable to its effects. With this in mind, the Vermont Department of Health began the Vermont Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative to support institutions of higher education in Vermont to go 100% tobacco free to improve academic success and help set their students on the right path for a healthy future.
The Vermont Department of Health identified and hired Burlington’s substance abuse prevention coalition, the Burlington Partnership for a Healthy Community, to coordinate and support colleges, community partners and tobacco grantees across the state to join the national tobacco-free campus movement.
Three years ago, Dr. Harry Chen, then Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, approached the Vermont College presidents at an annual meeting and asked them to lead an effort that would make their respective campuses tobacco or smoke free. On April 27, 2016 Dr. Chen was invited along with two other representatives of the Tobacco-free College Campus Initiative in Vermont to give a presentation to the Vermont State Colleges System board members and college administration about the benefits of tobacco and smoke-free campuses. Said Chen, “Smoke-free policies are one of the main reasons the smoking rate among young people in Vermont has gone from 40% in 1995 to 18% today. This is a major public health achievement, and we need to continue to build on this success by creating tobacco-free policies for our college campuses.”
Around the same time other campuses in Vermont began to join the movement of campuses and states across the US.
Why are colleges and universities creating smoke-free and tobacco-free campuses?
- To create a healthier environment for students, faculty, staff and visitors
- To support tobacco users who are trying to quit and help those who have quit remain tobacco free
- To reduce the number of new tobacco users by promoting the social norm of a smoke- and tobacco-free environment
As of October 2016, there were at least 1,713 100% smoke-free campuses in the US (from Americans for Non-Smokers’ Rights,) of which 1,427 are completely tobacco-free. Tobacco free includes all smoking of substances as well as using chew, e-cigarettes, and vaping. Locally, the University of Vermont (UVM) and Saint Michael’s College are now tobacco free as of 2015 and 2016 respectively. Springfield College and the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Services in Colchester have had 100% tobacco-free campuses for many years.
And more good news! At their May 2016 meeting, the Board of Trustees for the Vermont State Colleges System passed a resolution to move toward tobacco-free campuses for all state colleges—Castleton, CCV, Johnson, Lyndon, and Vermont Tech. Each state college was tasked by the board to organize a task force on their campus to create and implement a plan for a 100% tobacco-free campus policy no later than July 1, 2019. In the resolution the board states that the purpose of this policy, “…is to reduce harm from tobacco use and secondhand smoke, to provide an environment that encourages persons to become and/or remain tobacco-free, and to promote a culture of wellness.”
Some state colleges are on track to implement their policy change even earlier than 2019. Vermont Technical College (VTC) recently announced they will officially become one of the growing number of 100% tobacco-free college campuses on July 1st, 2018! In preparation for their new smoke and tobacco-free campus the college has increased the tobacco cessation support on campus and is now including tobacco-free messaging in all their communications.
“We are so excited by Vermont Technical College’s commitment to reduce the harm from tobacco use and secondhand smoke and provide a culture that supports people to remain tobacco-free. They were supported in their efforts by local community organization Health Connections of the Upper Valley. HCUP helped to provide connections to cessation resources, educational tools, and research informed strategies for a successful policy change. It is this kind of collaboration from multiple partners that has really made the tobacco-free campus movement so successful in Vermont,” says Mariah Sanderson, the Tobacco Free College Campus Initiative Coordinator for Vermont.
Is it working? It is. And the hope is that it will continue to help college age youth for years to come. According to the 2016 College Health Survey administered by the Vermont Department of Health, past 30-day use of cigarettes among Vermont college students decreased from 19% to 15% between 2014 and 2016.
To learn more:
Vermont Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative: tobaccofreecampusvt.org
The National Tobacco-Free Campus Initiative movement: tobaccofreecampus.org
Cessation resources: 802Quits.org or 1-800-QUIT-NOW
Mariah Sanderson is the Coalition Director of the Burlington Partnership for a Healthy Community and the Vermont Coordinator for the Tobacco Free College Campus Initiative.
Current PrEvents is produced by the Central Vermont New Directions Coalition in collaboration with the Washington County Youth Service Bureau, as part of the Regional Prevention Partnership grant from the Vermont Department of Health.