I’d like to thank the Minnesota Daily for bringing attention to the Centers for Disease Control’s recently released Tips From Former Smokers campaign. While some may think it’s ridiculous to keep talking about smoking and secondhand smoke, both of these articles illustrate the very real problem tobacco still poses. Despite declines in cigarette smoking, smokeless tobacco use is on the rise. Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease, causing more deaths each year than HIV, illegal drugs, alcohol, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and homicides combined.
Like column author Erin Lengas, I too hate walking across campus and being smacked in the face with cigarette smoke. I don’t blame tobacco users, though. I take issue with the 7,000 chemicals in secondhand smoke — hundreds that are toxic and 70 that cause cancer — that cannot be controlled or contained.
Smoking is a powerful addiction that the tobacco industry has engineered and reinforced. They spend more than $1 million every hour on marketing that discourages tobacco users from quitting and portrays tobacco as normal and appealing. While the majority of scientific evidence clearly outlines that tobacco is harmful, the tobacco industry is doing everything it can to frame the debate around “personal freedoms” and a person’s “right to smoke.” Contrary to popular belief, however, no court has found a specially protected federal constitutional right to smoke exists. Tobacco users are not a specially protected class of people.
Continuing to smoke is not the choice most tobacco users want to make. Most are interested in quitting at some point and have made multiple attempts to quit. As a result, we should be doing everything we can to encourage tobacco users to quit and stay tobacco free. The CDC and FDA are doing their part, but what is the University of Minnesota doing?
College campuses have increasingly gone 100 percent smoke and tobacco free to promote the health of everyone on campus. College students are of particular importance because tobacco companies have targeted them. The tobacco industry is also well aware of the experimental and transitional time period the college years provide for encouraging new smokers and solidifying existing smoking behaviors. In fact, 99 percent of all first tobacco use happens before the age of 26. Therefore, if young adults remain tobacco-free throughout their college years, very few will ever become tobacco users.
Tobacco-free policies have been shown to help tobacco users reduce their smoking or quit altogether. The University‘s Duluth and Crookston campuses have already made the transition, and it’s time the Twin Cities campus make that choice.
There are concerns that such a change would be impossible to enforce, especially because of the large, urban nature of our campus. However, other large institutions have successfully gone smoke and tobacco free, including Big Ten rivals Michigan, Iowa and Indiana. Additionally, the nation’s largest urban university system, City University of New York, is set to go tobacco free by fall 2012, and all University of California campuses are currently planning their efforts to implement tobacco-free policies by 2014.
The experience of the many schools that have made the change show that with enough planning, education and communication with the campus community before the transition, the policy should be mostly self-enforcing.
Enough with the excuses. As home to one of the best public health schools in the nation, we should be setting the example. It’s time to proudly commit to improving the health of our campus community. It’s time the Twin Cities campus joined the fight against the number one cause of preventable death and disease by transitioning to a 100 percent tobacco-free campus.
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