U.S. assistant surgeon general visits UAA Fresh Air kickoff

Members of UAA’s Smoke Free Task Force hosted an event on Feb 24, to kick of their campus-wide Fresh Air Challenge. The Fresh Air Challenge is a region-wide effort to encourage all college campuses in Alaska, Oregon, Idaho and Washington to become smoke- or tobacco-free.

The event opened with performances from the Underground Dance Company and UAA’s Glee Club. Chancellor Tom Case, Alaska chief medical officer Dr. Ward Hurlburt and Patrick O’Carroll, who is the assistant surgeon general to the United States, spoke at the event.

After the guest speakers, there was a panel that included Amelie Rousseau former student body president of the University of Oregon, who was successful in leading a smoke-free task force at her school.

In an interview, Dr. Patrick O’Carroll said, “The research is really strong, there is no documented safe amount of exposure, even on a second hand level. The more we study this, the more we find. In fact the most recent report, the 50th anniversary of the surgeon general’s report, has found new diseases that, prior to this we did not know were affected by exposure to smoke, including colorectal cancer, and tuberculosis for example, is made worse by exposure to smoke. So it’s just a phenomenally poisonous substance, and there’s no biological reason we should be inhaling it.”

During the event, Yesenia Carmarena, who is a member of the Smoke-Free Task Force, said, “The goal of UAA’s Smoke-Free Task Force is to improve the health of the UAA community not just for today, but for the future and for the leading generations to come. We wanted to do something more than just what a regular club or organization would do on campus. We want to make it an environment that restrains tobacco use rather than supports tobacco use, reduce the number of new smokers, help smokers to quit and provide them with an environment that supports their efforts, and to contribute to a healthier environment for all students, employees and visitors.”

Hurlburt gave a brief history of smoking in Alaska and emphasized how tobacco use and smoking has affected the Alaska Native population. Hurlburt said that before World War II, tobacco use was not prevalent among Alaska’s indigenous people. This changed when many Alaska Native men joined the military during the war and were given free cigarettes from the tobacco companies. These men returned from war addicted to tobacco and introduced it into their societies. According to Hurlburt, the first case of lung cancer in the Alaska Native community did not occur until 1970.

Case talked about how he grew up with a father and grandfather who smoked. His grandfather lost part of his lip to cancer from tobacco use, and his father died from a tobacco-related illness.

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Case stated that he, along with chancellors from the other two main University of Alaska colleges have been discussing going smoke- and tobacco-free throughout the entire UA system. Case said he believes this will happen within his lifetime and said it’s inevitable that UAA becomes smoke-free because it is the health campus in the UA system.

Students will vote whether or not to adopt the comprehensive smoke-free initiative in the April 8 and 9 student body elections. Faculty task force member Gabriel Garcia stated that if the measure does not pass, the task force will continue working on the initiative.