There is no safe exposure amount to smoke. This is the message UAA’s Smoke-Free Task Force hopes to communicate. The task force was formed in response to a challenge made by the United States Department of Health and Human Services for all college campuses to go smoke and tobacco free by 2016.
UAA’s task force is made up of faculty, staff and students who believe everyone has the right to breathe fresh air. According to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, more than 1,100 university campuses across the nation have established clean air policies, and members of the Smoke-Free Task Force hope UAA will be next to join the list.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, cigarette smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States and is responsible for an estimated 438,00 deaths per year, or about one in every five deaths.
“There’s a growing trend across the U.S. A lot of universities are going smoke-free. They (the Department of Health and Human Services) wanted to make it a region-wide effort in the Pacific Northwest to go smoke and tobacco free by 2016,” says task force member Yesenia Camarena.
The UAA Smoke-Free Task Force, which began last academic year, is the brainchild of assistant public health professor Gabriel Garcia.
“If we have a smoke-free campus, then we are introducing a culture here in the university that values non-smoking. If we have a smoke-free campus, and a sort of culture that promotes a smoke free type of value, students coming here will recognize that this university is a healthy university,” says Garcia. “People are not going to be influenced by others who are smoking on campus, so it’s just good to introduce that sort of culture and make it sort of a norm that everybody here in the university values a smoke-free campus.”
Garcia approached the Asian and Pacific Islander Club with the idea, and from there it has gained momentum. Task force members began last year by petitioning signatures from other students who support a smoke-free UAA. They gathered around 400 signatures in support of the initiative. They traveled to Juneau and presented this information at the Board of Regents meeting.
According to a recent study, 99 percent of smokers begin smoking by the time they are 26, so the task force’s message is important for college students. As it stands, 85 percent of UAA students are non-smokers.
Members have also begun conducting investigative research on whether or not UAA is in compliance with the current smoking and tobacco use policy. They discovered that UAA is not in compliance with its current smoking policy, which states cigarette receptacles must be a minimum of 20 to 50 feet away from building entrances.
“The plan is to submit the research to the chancellor to get some changes,” Garcia says, “but whether or not if it’s 20 feet or more than 20 feet, it’s better for the university to go smoke and tobacco free.”
For UAA student Valeria Delgado, being a member of the task force is personal. Delgado grew up in a smoking home. Her mother is a recovered smoker, and her grandmother continues to smoke. Delgado realized smoking was unhealthy at a young age after she saw a pig’s heart and lungs blackened by smoke exposure.
Delgado convinced her mom to stop smoking, and she feels it is important for young adults to understand that smoking can not only be harmful to oneself, but also to those surrounding. Sometimes second-hand smoke can be even more harmful.
This week, Delgado wrote a letter to the chancellor about the importance of a smoke- and tobacco-free campus. She told him her story of growing up in a smoking environment and of how important it is to her personally to have a smoke-free campus.
The smoke-free task force wants to emphasize this is not an anti-smoker campaign. In fact, they encourage feedback from smokers and also encourage smokers to join the task force.
“We want our students to be healthy. We as professors do so much to help our students with other things. Why can’t we help them with their health?” says Joy Chavez Mapaye, faculty adviser to the task force.
The task force is asking everyone to fill out e-mailed surveys regarding the initiative. Their next event will be a debate during Engage Week from 4-5 p.m. Nov. 5 in the Student Union Cafeteria.
“UAA is a health campus. Let us lead by example,” says Mapaye.
Students can get involved by liking the Smoke-Free Task Force’s Facebook page called “Smoke-Free UAA” or by contacting Delgado at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Department of Journalism and Public Communications will also offer a course this spring for students who would like to assist with the work of the task force and earn credits toward a degree.
The Student Health and Counseling Center in Rasmuson Hall Room 116 offers help for people struggling with smoking addiction. Students can call the center at 907-786-4040 or contact the Alaska Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-784-8669.