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August 2008
Volume 3, Number 8

Ozarks Technical Community College Center for a Tobacco-Free Campus

Steve Koehler

Five years ago, at a time when colleges were slow to rid their campuses of tobacco products and smoking, Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC) faced the problem head-on and has enjoyed great success since. As a result, the college is now a national leader providing information and assistance to others in their tobacco-free efforts. This month marks the fifth year of the policy going into effect at OTC.

In 1997, there were about 5,000 faculty, staff, and student smokers on the OTC campus who produced debris and pollution affecting the 15,000 students and community members coming on campus throughout the year. After almost two years of discussion and consideration, the school’s board of trustees voted in 1999 to make the campus tobacco free in 2003. Ty Patterson, then-vice president of student services, led the effort, and he now conducts workshops for those entities looking to become tobacco free. He also does consulting work across the country.

“We didn’t realize we were doing anything that groundbreaking when we first started working on the policy in 1997. Our president, Norman Myers, wanted the tobacco litter off the campus,” Patterson said. “He also didn’t like the fact that underage students attending our high school vocational education programs were given tacit approval to use tobacco, so he directed me to see what I could do to get tobacco off our campus.”

Blazing a New Trail

When Patterson began his research on how others implemented a tobacco-free environment, he came up empty-handed. Few, if any, other public institutions were banning tobacco ten years ago. It became apparent there were several who claimed to be tobacco free but none who really were.

“What I found were a number of colleges that had smoking areas or perimeter restrictions but none that prohibited tobacco use or smoking on the entire campus. We had to develop our own policy. We simply decided what we wanted the policy to address and crafted it,” Patterson said. “It also became evident that campuses with smoking shacks and designated smoking areas were having difficulty enforcing restrictions.”

OTC tried similar attempts with restricted areas but the rules were useless. The college took a four-pronged approach to the problem that included education, smoking cessation, community support and involvement, and policy implementation.

  • Education. A resource room that housed videotapes, brochures, pamphlets, and books from the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association was opened. More information was placed in the OTC Early Childhood Education Center for parents of the youngest campus visitors.
  • Smoking cessation. Posters and the school’s website informed the campus community of available smoking cessation assistance.
  • Community support and involvement. A community advisory committee representing the local health department, support groups, and civic and business communities was formed.
  • Policy implementation. The policy was endorsed by the school’s faculty, staff, and student senates. Campus security actively distributed campus policy brochures in 2003 along with educational brochures and smoking cessation information. It was the initial intention of the Tobacco-Free Committee to avoid punitive implementation in the early phase in an effort to educate the campus community about the tobacco-free movement. A more punitive approach to implementation was planned for fall of 2004.

Time Helped Policy Implementation

The timing between the approval of the tobacco-free policy and when it went into effect—almost four years—was crucial to the success of the new policy and allowed the school to educate employees about the rationale for the policy. “Time created an inevitability to the policy,” Patterson said. “In higher education, it is counterintuitive to set a policy and have it go into effect months, let alone years, later.”

In the period between the board’s approval of the policy and its implementation, two internal committees were formed and chaired by Patterson. Jim Blaine, a local physician and public health advocate, chaired a separate public community advisory committee. The committees were later combined and the OTC Tobacco-Free Advisory Committee was formed and chaired by Blaine.

There was some anxiety on everyone’s part as the date for implementing the policy approached. “There were threats of demonstrations by students and staff, along with employee resignations. We didn’t know what to expect,” Patterson said. But when the first day of the new policy arrived, it came and went without any dissent. Over the five years the policy has been in effect, there have been only a few disgruntled students and employees, Patterson said.

Blaine said a preliminary study at OTC has revealed a significant decrease in the percentage of tobacco use among students at OTC following implementation of a tobacco-free campus. “This is a reversal of the usual trend at colleges and universities without a tobacco-free policy. The tobacco-free campus policy instituted by OTC was a heroic effort when it was suggested in 1997,” Blaine said.

Coming to OTC for Help

Soon after OTC’s policy went into effect, other organizations began contacting OTC and Patterson for information about the policy. Both of the major hospitals in Springfield expressed interest in transforming their medical campuses in ways similar to OTC. Colleges and universities, along with other government agencies, contacted OTC and Patterson for more information about the policy and the process OTC went through to put it into effect. “It was neat talking to people about the policy. People would get excited when they learned how easy it was. I knew we were on to something that others could benefit from,” Patterson said.

Thanks to some timely suggestions, the school’s Center of Excellence for Tobacco-Free Campus Policy was born shortly after the new policy went into effect. During a meeting of OTC’s advisory committee, Drury University’s then-president John Moore, a guest at the meeting, suggested that OTC host a workshop for institutions and organizations interested in knowing more about the tobacco-free policy. And that was followed by an idea from committee member Harold Bengsch, Greene County’s health department director at the time, who urged the establishment of a Center of Excellence where best practices could be shared and research could be conducted.

“From the first meeting, I was very impressed with the measured approach and well-thought-out process OTC was willing to embrace in going tobacco-free campus wide. Theirs was not an authoritarian approach but rather a caring and understanding process involving education, support, and yet firm commitment to the goal of a tobacco-free campus involving the best interests of students, faculty, and support workers,” Bengsch said.

Center Established

In 2004, the Center of Excellence for Tobacco-Free Campus Policy was established at OTC and Patterson was named its director while still serving as vice president of student services. The mission of the Center of Excellence focuses on five main areas:

  1. Collect best practices from higher education institutions successfully implementing tobacco-free campus policy.
  2. Perform ongoing research on the impact of tobacco-free campus policy.
  3. Organize workshops to provide information to prospective campuses that are considering going tobacco free.
  4. Disseminate information to those interested in tobacco-free campus policy.
  5. Pursue funding for the center.

The center hosted its first workshop in 2004. Those who attended included Belmont Technical College, Ohio; Carl Albert State College, Oklahoma; Cuyahoga Community College, Ohio; Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma; Prairie State College, Illinois; St. Charles Community College, Missouri; and State Fair Community College, Missouri.

“OTC has been a true pioneer in assisting other colleges to adopt tobacco-free policies. Spokesperson Ty Patterson and his trendsetting team of educators offer step-by-step guidance through written materials and seminars that give examples of what worked and what didn’t work for them and for others,” said John McGuire, president of St. Charles Community College. “Their Center of Excellence and their tobacco-free campus workshops are well organized to teach through experience. OTC continues to pave the way to a healthy and safe learning and working environment for students, employees, and citizens throughout our state and nation.”

Since that first workshop, dozens more public and private institutions and government agencies have attended the center’s conferences. Patterson is amazed at the growth of the center and institutions enacting tobacco-free policies. “What started out as an effort to eliminate tobacco litter at a growing college and to make sure underage youth were not given approval to smoke or chew while attending classes has turned into an exercise in critical thinking for virtually every higher education institution. Some conclude it is time to take the ill effects of tobacco use off their campuses. Others are thinking it over,” Patterson said.

The assistance the center provides to the groups and organizations has grown to include consultations, professional articles, and presentations at conference and conventions. “Helping others with tobacco-free policies has been the most rewarding. OTC has had the opportunity to be a part of the tobacco-free policy process both for its sake and for the sake of others who have sought its assistance,” Patterson said.

Bengsch said that over the years, OTC has accepted the role of trailblazer in the field of tobacco-free policymaking. “What has transpired in the ensuing five years is a testament to the vision of OTC in accepting the challenge to become that center of excellence and what it has done to promote the health of not only its own population but the influence it has had in the development of tobacco use policy for institutions of higher learning across the nation,” he said.

For more information, go to the center’s website at http://www.otc.edu/about/tobaccofree.php.

Steve Koehler is Coordinator of Publications at Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield, Missouri.

Cynthia Wilson, Editor