The UAA campus goes smoke and tobacco free on Nov. 19

As most students have heard, Nov. 19 is the official start of UAA’s smoke and tobacco free campus. Even though the program is nearly three years in the making, students are still wondering where it came from, why it’s being taken on at UAA and what is means for them.

The Asian Pacific Islanders Community Wellness Club, now known as the Multicultural Community Wellness Club, started the smoke and tobacco free initiative. In Fall 2012, this club was formed out of a class from the earlier semester, taught by Gabriel Garcia, associate professor of public health and now cochair of the Smoke and Tobacco Free Campus Implementation Team, who then became the club’s advisor. The members of this club were investigating health inequities along racial lines and engaged in dialogue about how to contribute to public health based on their personal experiences. Many members had personal loss associated with cigarettes and they became interested in smoke and tobacco free campuses across the nation.

Throughout the 2012-2013 school year, the club conducted a survey of over 700 students on whether or not they were interested in a smoke and tobacco free campus. 72 percent of those surveyed felt positively about this measure. While bias in questioning or sampling may have been a factor in this percentage, the club didn’t stop there. They did take this as a positive sign and moved on with further validation of their initiative.

In the 2013-2014 school year, the club petitioned to make it a ballot measure in the 2014 spring USUAA elections. Over 1,000 students voted on this measure and while the conviction of student opinion on the measure slipped significantly, it passed with a 52 percent majority. The voter turnout was approximately triple the norm, but still only represents a tenth of all students on campus. Mattheiu Ostrander, USUAA Vice President, speculates that the turn out had to do with those trying to represent the opposing side of the issue.

“It seems that for almost every ardent supporter of the smoke-free initiative, a similarly-zealous student in opposition turned out to vote,” said Ostrander. Yet, in simple majority democracy, the majority, no matter how slim the margin, is what counts.”

Contrary to speculation, the smoke and tobacco free campus was obviously a grassroots initiative. Yet, the initiative did go system wide, and because most of the action took place on the UAA campus, on other campuses, it may seem to be more of a “top-down” initiative. The Board of Regents heard from the UAA smoke and tobacco free advocates before the student vote, but after the initiative passed, former University President Pat Gamble developed a way for the policy to be addressed at a systemic level. On Nov. 10, 2014, the Coalition of Student Leaders, which has a representative from every UA campus, unanimously passed a motion to support the policy, but with designated smoking areas — as did the Staff Alliance on Nov. 11. On Dec. 31, 2014, the Board of Regents adopted the policy, joining thousands of smoke and tobacco free campuses nationwide.

“When smoking does harm to others and impacts the university due to smoking-related healthcare expenses, I supported the smoke free policy. I hope that we will find that we have healthier employees and students thanks in part to our shift towards a smoke-free workforce and campuses,” Kenneth Fisher, a regent and vice chair of the academic and student affairs committee, said in regards to why he personally supported the initiative.

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The board only mandated a deadline for system wide implementation, being Dec. 31, 2014, and a first year of enforcement focused on education, but left the other details of the policy to be determined by each campus. UAS officially transitioned on July 1, while UAF will not make the leap until the Dec. 31 deadline. UA online has a full list of implementation dates for each campus.

UAA’s implementation is by far the most elaborate among all of the campuses. UAA has a smoke and tobacco free implementation team with representative members from each of UAA’s branch campuses. The team is comprised of four separate committees: the communication committee, the education committee, the implementation and enforcement committee, and the cessation committee. As the Nov. 19 deadline is effective this week, the primary focus of this team, along with the primary focus of student worry, is enforcement and funding of this new policy.

Many people are concerned that, starting Nov. 19, themselves and their friends will start receiving malicious tickets for a life style choice or an addiction that they are battling to fund a system similar to the wildly unpopular UAA Parking Services. The actual change is much more subtle and arguably, more well-intentioned. As the Board of Regents determined and UAA’s implementation team overwhelmingly supports, the first year of enforcement is restricted to education about the policy and cessation resources.

This “enforcement” is to be carried out by peer educators. These peer educators are volunteers who will be trained on approaching and informing smokers on campus about the new policy with a major focus on the quitting resources available on campus. Who these volunteers will be is largely undetermined, but training sessions will begin in December. There is one paid position in regards to enforcement of the smoke and tobacco free campus policy in its first year, who is tasked with developing the curriculum for and teaching these peer educators. This position has been filled by a current student and past smoker. Beyond this first year approach, further enforcement methods are undetermined. Both the Board of Regents and the UAA implementation team have hinted at the hope for self-policing once the policy has been public for some time. Yet, Garcia has expressed the possibility of more disciplinary enforcement in the future.

“We [the implementation and enforcement committee] are responsible for making recommendations in terms of what would be the most appropriate and effective enforcement moving forward. Not this first year, because this first year is all about transition. It’s all about learning what works and what doesn’t work,” said Garcia. “And who knows? We might do a good job in our community efforts and educating people that maybe in the second year, people are just following the policy. They’re doing their self-compliance and they’re not going against the policy. So if that’s the case, then we may not need to implement something that’s harsh — like a ticket or a fine — but if people are not following the policy, then I think it’s important to introduce penalties. Other campuses have done so, because if you don’t have any penalties at all, then it’s almost like not having any policy at all.”

The UAA implementation team is currently working with USUAA to develop the enforcement plan for two and three years out.

Funding goes hand in hand with enforcement. Since the birth of this initiative, it has been funded from outside sources. These outside sources include a grant from the American Lung Association, Alaska chapter. A student from the original group in the Multicultural Wellness Club applied for the grant in the early stages of the initiative. Along the way, the smoke and tobacco free campus has attracted other supporters, both financially and voluntarily, in agencies with similar goals throughout Alaska, including Leadership for Eliminating Alaskan Disparities (LEAD).

All paid positions on the implementation team and the peer educator trainer, as well as all of the promotional materials thus far, have been paid for with these outside funds. The smoke and tobacco campus implementation team has expressed no intention to look for funds through the University. Yet, as this is an ongoing policy and their current funds are limited, it raises the question of how effective the policy can be or will be without sustained funding for things such as disciplinary enforcement or cessation resources. Garcia says that his focus throughout the development of smoke and tobacco free UAA has been evaluation. As the head of the enforcement and implementation committee, he says that he is working to know how to be effective with the resources and systems already available at UAA.

There are other important facets of the Nov. 19 implementation date. Despite university support from student and staff leaders, the implementation team at UAA determined that designated smoking areas would undermine the intention of the policy. Nevertheless, there are two major exemptions to the reach of the smoke and tobacco ban, being that smoke and tobacco is allowed on public sidewalks surrounding campus and within personal vehicles on campus.

It is also notable that the most affected group of this new policy is students in on-campus housing. The campus-wide ban means that those using student housing cannot smoke in or around their homes. The implementation team says that their efforts will focus on this group in the upcoming months. The implementation team will conduct another round of surveys in the spring, regarding attitudes and beliefs about the policy thus far, how it can be improved, and what its future should look like. The implementation team is also currently under review of UAA’s Research Review Board to hold focus groups on the effectiveness of cessation resources on campus. There is a link on every student’s UAOnline account to the Smoke and Tobacco-Free Campus webpage, where the most current information can be found and questions can be directly asked of the implementation team.