BOR emphasizes health benefit in tobacco ban

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

When the Georgia Board of Regents meets next week, the Tobacco and Smoke-Free Campus policy that was introduced last month to the on Personnel and Benefits Committee will likely be brought before the full board.

“Tentative plans are, like any policy, to have the actual discussion/vote on the policy come before the full board 30 days after introduction – for this policy this would be the February Board of Regents Meeting,” said John Millsaps, Associate Vice Chancellor for Media and Publications for the University System of Georgia (USG).

The written agenda for the meeting in particular emphasized health, stating that “[the] University System of Georgia recognizes the serious health implications of both direct use of tobacco products and indirect exposure to the use of tobacco products,” and that “we recognize our responsibility to promote the health, well-being and safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors by implementing a tobacco and smoke-free campus policy.”

Many of the health risks of smoking are well known, including an increased incidence of lung cancer, coronary heart disease and COPD. A report  released this year by the surgeon general on the “The Health Consequences of Smoking” added several new diseases causally linked to smoking to the current list, including Liver and Colorectal Cancer, macular degeneration, Diabetes, tuberculosis and erectile dysfunction. According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 20,830,000 Americans have died prematurely since 1965 as a result of smoking, including over two million who died from exposure to secondhand smoke.

According to Tammy Turner, Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Coordinator in Health Promotion, internal numbers in Health Promotion showed about ten percent of Tech students report smoking, eight percent report cigar use, nine-point-five percent report hookah use and three percent report smokeless tobacco.

“[One thing] that I feel that we have to deal with a lot at Tech, or [at] colleges in general, is that people don’t really consider themselves a smoker[s] because they only smoke when they drink, [that] type of thing,” said Turner. “Any tobacco use is harmful.”

Several other universities around the country, including the University of Michigan (UM), the University of Texas (UT), Emory University and Georgia Regents University (GRU) have already enacted similar tobacco bans citing health concern for smokers and for secondhand inhalers.

Although evidence is limited, given the relative novelty of campus tobacco bans, there are some studies that indicate positive health effects. According to an Indiana University study published in Preventative Medicine, the percentage of students smoking dropped by three-point-seven percentage points at Indiana University, which implemented a ban, versus a slight increase at Purdue University, which has no ban.

“Could we find a cause and effect long-term [between smoking bans and decreased smoking]? That would be hard to say,” said Dr. Benjamin Holton, physician and chair of Tech’s Tobacco Cessation Committee. “From a health standpoint,… a lot of what college health is about is helping students establish healthy habits that are going to yield long term benefits and we see smoking as being one of those things that, if we can get students to stop now, it will provide long term benefits to them in the future.”

Other universities that have adopted tobacco bans such as UM, UT and GRU rely on students, employees and faculty to enforce the rule by reminding others of the policy. In some cases, infractions can result in disciplinary action, but in most cases, it is handled informally. The Board of Regents would likely use a similar enforcement policy for campuses throughout Georgia.

“The overall enforcement and authority of this policy would lie with the president of the institution but is also a shared community responsibility, which means all students, faculty and staff are encouraged to help and support a tobacco-free campus,” Millsaps said.