Letter to the Editor: Tobacco task force promotes health

Nov. 3, 2015

Last week, Kyle Brooks raised concerns about the proposed recommendation to have a tobacco-free campus. I hope to respond to some of those concerns by providing information about the Chancellor’s Tobacco Policy Task Force and the rationale behind the current recommendation.

In 2013, Chancellor Richard Telfer (at the request of WSG) formed a Task Force that investigated whether or not UWW should consider a tobacco-free campus policy. This Task Force included members of our campus community (including representatives of our four governance bodies). The Task Force found the following:

1. The current policy is inadequate for two reasons. First, it is not followed (people use tobacco within 25 feet of doorways). Campuses that have gone 100 percent tobacco-free have found that their policy is easier to understand and people are more likely to comply.  Second, it is inconsistent with ‘best practices’ recommended by public health experts. In Wisconsin, 20 campuses have chosen to promote their campus communities health by adopting 100 percent tobacco-free campus policies.

2. Our campus community supports a tobacco-free policy. Last spring, the National College Health Assessment was administered here and found that of the 938 UW-W student respondents, 65.2 percent support a tobacco-free campus policy. This finding is consistent not only with previous UW-W student and employee surveys, but also surveys across the country. The majority of individuals desire tobacco-free environments.

3. Looking at data from many of the 1,079 universities that have adopted tobacco-free policies, the Task Force found the following: students benefit (increased health outcomes and improved academic performance), the campus is cleaner (grounds/maintenance staff report less cigarette litter and spills from chewing tobacco), and admissions and applications are either not effected or experienced positive effects. Few negative complaints arise.

The Task Force recommended that UW-W adopt a 100 percent tobacco-free campus with voluntary compliance. The purposes of this policy are to reduce harm from secondhand smoke, provide an environment that encourages persons to be tobacco-free, establish a campus culture of wellness and environmental responsibility, and promote a tobacco-free future. This policy does not take away an individual’s right to choose to use tobacco, it does limit where a person may choose to use tobacco.

The proposed policy explicitly states that individuals shall not suffer sanctions/punishments/fines if they choose to violate the policy. These individuals could receive a reminder, but they would not get ‘in trouble.’ The Task Force found that these policies are still effective at reducing exposure and use, even if no one is punished for violations.

Brooks also discussed smoke-free vs. tobacco-free policies. We know that enacting a comprehensive policy that includes all forms of tobacco is more equitable, easier to understand, and has better health outcomes. A tobacco-free policy consistently addresses health issues, because there is no safe form of tobacco. The makers of smokeless tobacco strive to convince people that their products are “safer” than cigarettes and can be used as an aid in quitting smoking. Chewing tobacco and snuff contain over 28 cancer-causing agents. In addition, smokeless tobacco use often creates unwanted and sometimes hazardous waste and byproducts that can be spilled both outdoors and indoors. These spills create more cleanup work for campus maintenance staff and harm the environment. Additionally, electronic vaping devices are not considered by the FDA to be a safe nicotine delivery system or smoking cessation strategy.

Let’s work together to create a campus community that promotes health!

Whitney Henley

Wellness Coordinator