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Tobacco-free policy and e-cigarette use on UWRF campus

December 12, 2018

UW-River Falls has actively been a tobacco free campus for the past five years. The tobacco-free policy was implemented in July of 2013 and since then there has been a steady decrease of tobacco use on campus. According to UWRF student health services surveys, the percentage of students who smoke on the UWRF campus has decreased approximately 72 percent and smoking rates on a national level have decreased approximately 58 percent.

However, in recent years e-cigarettes have replaced traditional tobacco products which has affected the rates of smoking on campus. Although the overall percentage rates of smoking have gone down both on the national level and on the UWRF level, there is still prevalent use of “vapes” on campus.

While smoking among college students has decreased, the use of e-cigarettes or "vaping" is presenting a new challenge for UWRF health officials. (Photo by Theo Tollefson)
While smoking among college students has decreased, the use of e-cigarettes or “vaping” is presenting a new challenge for UWRF health officials. (Photo by Theo Tollefson)

The policy raises the question of “what’s the big deal of using e-cigarettes on campus?” Keven Syverson, Assistant Director of Health Promotion, discussed the issues with e-cigarette use on campus. Syverson said, “The policy for a tobacco-free campus was produced in hopes of creating an environment that could promote healthy living. If we can assist in healthier decisions hopefully we can have healthier employees and students and they can have healthier lives.”

Syverson also added that, “the policy is not in place to tell people that they can’t smoke, they just can’t smoke on any UWRF property. The rationale of the policy is to help people quit and cut back on the use of tobacco.”

The policy making process took around five years and the policy was passed through multiple campus government organizations, including both faculty and student government bodies. Syverson said, “We wanted the policy to be all inclusive.”

So information was gathered from various sources. Syverson said, “Student health services created several surveys for staff and students regarding the policy and responses showed that a tobacco-free policy would be supported.”

The enforcement of the policy is completely voluntary. Syverson said, “It is a self-enforced policy and is based on people to comply and to encourage others to comply.”

This approach works for the UWRF campus and for several other campuses in the UW-system. The idea is that, if students or staff do encounter a situation where the policy is being broken, that they remind others that the campus is a tobacco-free environment and the use of tobacco is prohibited on the property. There are not necessarily consequences stated within the written policy.

The use of tobacco on campus has not been an issue in recent years until e-cigarettes started to become more popular. It still is not necessarily a huge issue, but it is prevalent on campus. According to a UWRF campus survey, about 10 percent of students use e-cigarettes regularly. This is an increase from prior years and because of the overall increase, the UWRF campus makes sure to market the policy to new and returning students at the beginning of each year at orientations and during the first few days when students are back on campus.

E-cigarette products and the effects of these products are still being researched today. There are not many studies that express the health effects of these products. In other words, there is no proof explicitly saying that vaping is either healthy or unhealthy. The products are marketed as a healthy alternative to traditional smoking, however the FDA does not support this.

There is no data from the FDA that proves that the use of e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes or that the products help people to quit or cut back on using traditional cigarettes. However, there is evidence that dual use is more common. According to a survey fact sheet from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, 46 percent of e-cigarette users also smoke cigarettes on a regular basis.

The UWRF tobacco-free policy will remain in place and is up for review in the coming year. The policy may be revised to keep enforcing a healthy environment by continuing to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes as well as other tobacco use on campus. There are resources on campus that help students with quitting tobacco use. There are quit kits available through health services and the Vibrant health clinic in River Falls also can help with the quitting process. In addition to these resources, there are Wisconsin and Minnesota quit-lines that offer support throughout the course of quitting tobacco use.