A Breath of Fresh Air: Lane Community College Goes Tobacco-free
March 2011, Volume 6, Number 3
By Wendy Simmons
In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, anyone could smoke indoors at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon. In the 1990s, federal laws moved smoking outdoors. Unlike bell bottoms, a return to smoking indoors has not occurred and federal and state laws have expanded. In 2002, Lane created several designated smoking areas to curtail smoking everywhere on campus and help make the campus accessible for all who came to Lane. Ironically, some of the smoking areas were placed next to main walkways and air intakes. Following the creation of these areas, Lane’s Safety Committee received more complaints of exposure to secondhand smoke.
In 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General stated that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke and the Stanford Outdoor Tobacco Smoke Study confirmed the harmful effects on individuals exposed to secondhand smoke outdoors. A group of Lane employees met with a representative of the American Lung Association of Oregon in February 2007 to bring the concept of a tobacco-free community college to Lane.
A Smoke Task Force was formed in November 2007 to address the issues our safety committee was asked to review. On a campus walkabout, the task force discovered many designated areas in violation of our smoking policy, such as cement urns placed in areas not designated as smoking areas, students smoking while walking to classes, ashtrays and urns near air intakes, and old temporary designated smoking area signs needing removal. After reviewing the pitfalls of a designated-area policy and learning about the benefits of going tobacco-free, the task force set out to work toward a tobacco-free campus policy.
The Rationale for Pursuing a Tobacco-free Policy
A tobacco-free campus policy offers greater accessibility and a safer, cleaner, more healthful environment for students, employees, and visitors. Colleges save money on cleaning and maintenance costs. Lane was spending $10,000 per year on cigarette litter collection and disposal before this policy was enacted. Colleges can also gain a marketing and recruiting advantage, as the majority of staff and students prefer a working and learning environment free of secondhand smoke.
A tobacco-free environment is consistent with Lane’s mission. Lane is committed to creating a learning-centered environment that equips students with the academic and life skills necessary to succeed in today’s workforce. In our community, state, and nation more employers are recognizing the value of creating smoke-free environments indoors and outdoors. In order to provide a healthier, more accessible environment for employees, customers, and visitors, an increasing number of public institutions and private employers have voluntarily decided to prohibit tobacco use on their property outdoors. Creating a tobacco-free environment helps prepare Lane students for future employment.
A tobacco-free environment supports many of Lane’s core values, including learning, accessibility, sustainability, and innovation. Lane is a leader in promoting the health and well-being of its students and employees. Creating a smoke-free campus demonstrates that level of caring by supporting a learning environment that will help students and staff live longer and healthier lives. For students with asthma, allergies, or other respiratory conditions, secondhand smoke on college campuses denies access to the college.
To meet our core value of sustainability, Lane strives to integrate practices that support and improve the health of systems that sustain life, and tobacco use is antithetical to this goal. As is well documented, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. In addition, the production of tobacco products is detrimental to the environment, burning as much as one acre of forest for every acre of tobacco cured and using 12 percent of all the timber felled in the world. Tobacco cultivation involves pesticides, which poison farm workers, seep into the soil, pollute waterways and ecological systems, and poison livestock and food crops.
Furthermore, cigarettes are one of the most littered items in America and the world. Cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate and can take decades to degrade. Cigarette litter is not only unpleasant to look at, but the toxic residue in cigarette filters is damaging to the environment. Each year, numerous fires are caused by littered cigarettes that have not been fully extinguished. Creating a tobacco-free campus reduces local cigarette waste as well as air pollution from secondhand smoke.
Creating a tobacco-free campus demonstrates active engagement in positively impacting the larger environment and adopting sustainable practices to ensure a viable and thriving college for generations of students to come. Acting courageously, deliberately, and systematically to become a tobacco-free campus demonstrates our core value of innovation; Lane is a trendsetter, not a trend follower. Following Lane’s lead, the University of Oregon, also in Eugene, announced that it will go tobacco-free in fall of 2012.
The tobacco-free policy contributes to the learning environment by helping to create, enhance, and maintain inviting and welcoming facilities that are safe, functional, well equipped, and environmentally sound. A tobacco-free campus is more aesthetically pleasing, welcoming, and accessible to all students, safer from fires, and environmentally sustainable.
Planning and Student Involvement
Student involvement and support for a tobacco-free campus was clearly essential. Consequently, the Smoke Task Force engaged with Lane’s student government organization, the Associated Students of Lane Community College (ASLCC). Representatives from the ASLCC, along with other students, joined the task force. Other task force members were from all employee groups, including representatives from Lane’s facilities, health clinic, and human resources departments as well as the Lane County public health office. A grassroots effort to promote a tobacco-free campus was employed, with task force members making presentations to the college's executive team, ASLCC, safety committee, and governance system councils.
The Smoke Task Force and ASLCC recommended a campuswide survey in spring 2008 to get as much feedback as possible. A secondhand smoke survey was developed, publicized extensively online, and made available to all employees and students for four weeks. The response was significant, with 5,219 total surveys completed, including 4,412 students and 807 employees. The following survey results favored moving toward a tobacco-free campus:
- According to students, exposure to secondhand smoke occurs frequently on campus:
- Over 50 percent of students reported being exposed to secondhand smoke every day or a few times a day on campus.
- The majority of students say the smoke bothers them:
- Sixty-four percent reported being bothered either a little or a lot by secondhand smoke.
- Almost 25 percent of students reported having some immediate health effects from secondhand smoke.
- Most students think “It’s O.K. for colleges to prohibit smoking on campus if that’s what it takes to keep secondhand smoke away from other students and employees”:
- Three out of 5 students agreed, and employees were even more supportive, with 7 out of 10 in agreement.
- In general, students were supportive of a tobacco-free campus if quit-smoking services are available:
- Six out of 10 (63 percent) supported a tobacco-free campus; 4 out of 10 strongly supported it.
- Over 65 percent of employees support a tobacco-free campus, with almost 50 percent strongly supporting the policy change.
- Many students would choose a smoke-free college over a college that allows smoking on campus:
- Fifty-nine percent of students agreed, and 2 out of 5 strongly agreed.
In the spring and summer of 2008, some designated areas were removed and others were relocated in an attempt to fix policy violations and locate smoking areas away from air intakes and major walkways. The Smoke Task Force continued to meet in 2008 and 2009 to evaluate the changes and recommend a tobacco-free school. Numerous articles appeared in The Torch, Lane’s student newspaper, to inform students and gather their opinions of the changes and processes along the way.
At Lane, new policies must be approved through our governance system, specifically by the college council. In June 2009, the faculty council recommended a tobacco-free campus policy, which was adopted as “Smoking and other tobacco use is prohibited in all core areas of LCC campuses; smoking and tobacco use may be allowed in some designated peripheral areas.” During the fall of 2009, the college council charged the Smoke Task Force with implementing the policy and choosing four designated smoking areas outside the core of campus.
Implementation of a Tobacco-free campus
In the winter of 2010, an implementation plan was devised. The slogans, “Change is in the Air” and “Be Well” were adopted for all publications. Throughout the spring and summer, a marketing and educational campaign was executed, using every channel of communication possible. The campaign included posters, articles in the student newspaper, notices in the employee electronic newsletter, and placards in the cafeteria. It targeted departments such as counseling and enrollment services, and 4,000 “tobacco-free” bookmarks were stuffed into bookstore bags. The move to a tobacco-free campus was promoted heavily online. A website was created to explain why, how, and when we were going tobacco-free, and to provide cessation resources. Students checking grades for spring classes or registering for summer or fall classes were exposed to a reminder nag briefly explaining the change, when it would happen, and why it was happening. All employees also saw the nag.
The final kick off effort featured a rap video with several employees and students as well as Lane’s President Mary Spilde making the announcement, “I’m down with LCC ‘cause we’re goin’ smoke-free.” At the all-employee gathering during Lane’s fall 2010 in-service, the video was shown to announce our tobacco-free campus policy in a light-hearted way and to explain cessation resources available at our campus health clinic. Finally, the policy was announced on local news and radio stations prior to the rap video being released, and then again with parts of the rap video being shown.
The Impact of the Smoke-free Campus Effort
The success of the educational media campaign is evidenced by the outstanding compliance to the policy. After the first week of classes, one manager reported, “I’ve been looking, but can’t find anyone in violation of the policy.” The air is cleaner. The campus is cleaner. During the first week of the term, grounds staff reported that only one cigarette butt had been found on the core of campus. Several employees and students have commented on how much more pleasant our campus environment is now. The health clinic is seeing high numbers of students who want to quit smoking. Several employees have quit. Some people have explained that they don’t have time to get to the designated areas so they are cutting down on smoking. The rap video was displayed on Lane’s home page and received over 7,500 views.
Although a huge success, a few issues remain to be resolved. Some safety concerns and complaints have emerged regarding the four designated smoking areas on the perimeter of campus in parking lots. For example, the designated areas are not lit at night, so passing cars may have difficulty seeing smokers, with increased risk when excess speed is involved. Another issue is that some smoking shelters were initially located too close to wheelchair accessible parking spaces, thus exposing others to secondhand smoke. Some of these issues have already been addressed, and as we continually strive for improvement, additional options, including that of becoming a 100 percent tobacco-free campus, should be considered.
The benefits of going tobacco-free are substantial and cannot be denied. A tobacco-free policy clearly supports and enhances Lane’s mission, core values, and strategic directions. The road to Lane’s tobacco-free campus has not been short, nor has it been free of detour and caution signs. However, with campuswide input and support, proper planning, and an educational media campaign, the concept of a tobacco-free core campus became a reality. In the process, Lane once again demonstrated its commitment to providing a healthy, safe educational environment for employees and students to work, learn, and succeed.
Wendy Simmons is the employee wellness coordinator at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon.
Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.