U.S. Colleges and Universities Deserve an 'A' for Going Tobacco-Free
By Howard K. Koh, M.D., M.P.H.
Assistant Secretary for Health
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Co-authored by Cynthia Hallett, MPH
American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation
The Huffington Post
November 20, 2013
The Great American Smokeout (GASO), sponsored by the American Cancer Society, encourages smokers to quit for a day and plan to quit smoking for good. This year, celebrating GASO also involves recognizing the growing leadership of our nation's colleges and universities in making campuses smoke- or tobacco-free.
Our physical environment affects the daily choices we make about life and health. For decades, such environments have promoted a cultural norm glamorizing tobacco use that has led to devastating outcomes. College and university campuses can prevent nicotine addiction among students by implementing tobacco-free campus policies and promoting healthy lifestyle choices.
As the 2012 Surgeon General's Report Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults illustrates, many lifestyle choices that lead to future health risk, including tobacco use, peak between 21 and 25 years of age. The number of smokers who started after age 18 has recently increased from 600,000 (2002) to 1 million (2010). This means that, ultimately, up to 1 million current college students could die prematurely from tobacco use.
In September of 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), together with several key partners, launched the Tobacco Free College Campus Initiative (TFCCI) to encourage the voluntary adoption of tobacco-free policies at institutions of higher learning across the nation. It has been a remarkable year since the launch. Colleges and universities everywhere have launched campus conversations that remind their students, faculty and administration that the tobacco epidemic is far from solved. They have initiated inclusive dialogues about possible policy change options, and have considered new policies that could restore their campuses to places where health, not addiction, is the norm.
The Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) Foundation, a non-lobbying, educational, nonprofit organization (501(c)3), creates comprehensive programs that support smoking prevention, the benefits of smoke-free air, and the right to breathe smoke-free air. The ANR Foundation has tracked, collected, and analyzed tobacco control laws around the country since the early 1980s. Each quarter, the ANR Foundation unveils updated information to communicate the current status of smoke-free air environments. Today, in honor of GASO, ANR Foundation has released the latest list of smoke- and tobacco-free schools.
When the TFCCI began in September 2012, 774 colleges and universities were smoke- or tobacco-free. Today, there are more than 1127 100% smoke-free campuses and 758 of those are 100% tobacco-free. We celebrate the dramatic rise in that number, not only because it represents a rapidly growing percentage of the 4,583 colleges and universities in the United States, but also because it reflects the improved health of students today that will reduce risk of illness and death tomorrow.
We can offer many resources for user-friendly information about tobacco prevention and cessation. Everyone who is interested in quitting should seek help from a tobacco cessation program such as smokefree.gov, 1-800-QUIT-NOW or through their health insurance plans. As a result of the Affordable Care Act, most private health insurance plans will now cover the cost of cessation interventions for tobacco users. HHS' website, BeTobaccoFree.gov, represents another valuable resource that includes user-friendly information on the health impact of tobacco use, federal and state laws and policies, and the best guidance on how to quit. Also, January 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health. A new Report will highlight a half-century of progress in tobacco control and prevention, as well as present new data on the health consequences of tobacco use.
Deglamorizing and denormalizing tobacco use for adolescents and young adults can help our country reclaim a social norm of health and wellness. As we encourage our loved ones to quit today, let's also recognize the leadership of colleges and universities around the country that will make our country stronger and healthier for the future.
Follow Dr. Howard K. Koh on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@HHS_DrKoh