The University of Rhode Island received a $20,000 grant from the American Cancer Society and CVS Health Foundation to advocate for, adopt and implement 100 percent smoke- and tobacco-free campus policies.
There has always been a no-smoking policy in and next to campus buildings. Now, URI has taken a step further and will extend to not only inside the buildings, but all over campus.
Funded by the CVS Health Foundation, the grant is part of the American Cancer Society’s Tobacco-Free Generation Campus Initiative. It’s initiatives like these that will deliver the first tobacco-free generation by increasing awareness and expanding the number of campuses across the country that prohibit smoking and tobacco use.
Ellen Reynolds, director of the URI Health Services and co-chair of the Tobacco Free Campus Committee Initiative, believes the grant is an opportunity to change student’s lives.
“I really want to emphasize coming from the lense of a student because most people start their smoking habits between the age of 19 and 26 and that’s our population,” Reynolds said. “Those are the direct individuals who we are trying to impact with good education and helping them not develop a habit again that could be a lifelong habit and really many ill health affects.”
The initiative seeks to reduce the number of people who become ill and die from tobacco-related uses, by reaching an age group that’s to developing an addiction to tobacco.
Reynolds says the grant will help URI students, faculty and staff develop and execute strategies toward a 100 percent smoke- and tobacco-free environment. The American Cancer Society will also provide technical assistance and other resources, including education, communications and support to quit smoking and evaluation.
Some student smokers had mixed feelings after hearing about the initiative.
Garrett Burgon, a URI senior, uses smoking cigarettes as a stress reliever. He smokes two times a day on campus and doesn’t want the campus going tobacco and smoke free.
“I’m not a fan of it,” he said. “Like if you’re over 18, you can smoke, so the fact that they’re taking away on a public university campus is kind of annoying.”
Burgon believes this initiative is prohibiting a situation that is legal for a college campus and that it’s a person’s own discretion to smoke if they want to.
“I feel like it takes away a lot of freedom and the ability for students and faculty in general to smoke,” he said. “Some people need to take cigarette breaks and now they can’t do that anymore.”
Burgon is aware of the side effects to smoking but will still continue whether there is a policy or not.
“I know it’s not good, I know that anything you put in your lungs that isn’t air is bad for you,” he said.
Other students loved the idea of creating URI a tobacco and smoke-free campus.
Olivia Burgess, a senior at URI, is an advocate to end smoking because she lost her grandfather to lung cancer.
“Anyone who’s friends with me knows that I don’t want you to smoke cigarettes,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to have any health issues in the future.”
Burgess believes it will be a challenge to get through to on-campus smokers, but thinks the campus initiative will eventually help everyone in the long run.
“It’s a very powerful movement that they’re trying to make it tobacco free,” she said. “Hopefully it sticks with some people and that people will realize how harmful it really is.”
Burgess said she has many friends who only smoke cigarettes when they are drunk, making excuses that their habits are “only a drunk thing.” Burgess argues that only smoking on certain occasions doesn’t make you immune, however.
“It’s really the long term and it’s going to affect you regardless if you do it sober or drunk,” she said.
The committee has met to begin developing a plan for the program. The Tobacco-Free initiative will lead to a campus prohibition of cigarettes, cigars, all smokeless tobacco products including a tobacco and herb vape pen. One of the committee’s first big steps will be to conduct a campus-wide survey to evaluate the readiness for change among students, faculty and staff.
Deborah Riebe, associate dean of the College of Health Sciences and other co-chair of the Tobacco Free Campus Initiative, believes the tobacco free initiative committee will be able to properly adjust smokers to the non-smoking environment before policy goes into effect.
“Part of our job as a committee, is to work with them on replacement products that might help them become non smokers before policy even goes into effect,” Riebe said.
Gary Reedy, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, said tobacco is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. Cigarette smoking is responsible for approximately 30 percent of all cancer deaths, killing up to half of its users.
In Rhode Island, both Johnson & Wales University and Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School are among the smoke-free campuses.
“There are a number of schools who have already done this good work,” Reynolds said. “We have leadership to look forward to from our peer institutions to help put put this type of policy into place.”
The University has begun its initiative on the Kingston campus but hopes to extend the work to its other campus locations.