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Student Health Services strives toward a tobacco free campus

November 5, 2009

Student Health Services is making plans to turn UW-River Falls into a tobacco free campus within two years, with the help of its students, staff and faculty.

The results of the 2008 Tobacco Free Survey suggest that students are now ready for a change of scenery on their campus by changing the rules on tobacco use.

95 percent of students at UWRF feel that secondhand smoke is a problem for the campus, while 74 percent of students feel that smoking should not be allowed anywhere on campus, according to the survey.

Currently, there are three issues regarding tobacco use on campus: where students and faculty are allowed to smoke, what the administration is doing about tobacco use on campus and what the health concerns are with creating a tobacco free campus.

The only rule that has been applied to the UWRF campus at this time is that students, staff and faculty must stay 25 feet from the building when they are smoking. Students have differing opinions about whether or not this has been a successful rule.

“I don’t think that the rule is effective because it is not followed by students or enforced by campus,” student Travis Spencer said. “25 feet is not enough space because people passing by will still be subjected to secondhand smoke.”

This can be a problem for people who do not smoke because they are subject to the secondhand smoke. Smoke from the burning end of a cigarette contains 4,000 chemicals and at least 60 carcinogens, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“I don’t think that some people understand that the effects of secondhand smoke are just as serious outdoors as they are indoors at a bar or restaurant,” Health Education Coordinator, Corey Phelps, said.

The affects of secondhand smoke can be dangerous for those who are subjected to it. Over 50,000 people die every year from secondhand smoke exposure, according to the American Lung Association.

Students have a strong feeling that it is the administration’s job on campus to help with enforcement of the 25 foot rule and to help with turning the campus tobacco free. 

“When we consider the question of a smoke free campus at UWRF, we need to be aware of the research on secondhand smoke and gather information from other campuses that have gone smoke free to understand the best practices,” Chancellor Dean Van Galen said. “I do think it is an option we should consider.”

The Student Health Advisory Committee is active through Student Health Services to serve as an advisory group that promotes healthy students through a broad, integrated, contextual view of health, according to the Student Health Services Web site.

This committee arranges to have the signs telling students to stay 25 feet back from the buildings. Instead of using enforcement, the Student Health Advisory Committee likes to promote prevention and cessation. By promoting help lines and information, they are hoping that students are making their own decisions based on that information.

“If campus is to go tobacco free, it has to be a campus-wide effort by students, staff and faculty,” Director of Student Health Services, Alice Reilly-Myklebust said.

Student Health Services is working with other campuses that have gone tobacco free at this time to gather information about what works and does not work when making the switch, according to Phelps. Campuses such as University of Minnesota-Mankato, University of Minnesota-Duluth, UW-Platteville, Winona State University and Bethel University have all gone tobacco free. 

88 percent of students feel that litter caused by smoking detracts from the appearance of campus, and when a committee of students took one hour to pick up cigarette butts around campus they collected over 5,000, according to the survey.

This image could detract from incoming students perception of what kind of campus UWRF is. Based on the results of the survey, students have a strong feeling that things need to change on UWRF’s campus—66 percent of students support an entirely tobacco free campus.