Can UC Irvine Go Smoke Free?

A couple of months ago, the UC Office of the President made an official statement about a policy proposal for every UC to go smoke-free by 2014. A committee, formed after a systemwide occupational wellness forum, identified multiple rationales for eliminating the harms of smoking and second-hand smoking on campuses.

Among these rationales include the facts that 443,000 people die from tobacco-related illnesses every year and 50,000 non-smokers die from second-hand smoking, making these the first and third leading causes, respectively, of preventable mortality in the United States. Additionally, while a very low percentage of college students are already addicted, quitting within this age range significantly lowers the chances of addiction later.

This policy came as news to some, either positive or negative, but for others, like the members of the Student Taskforce Advocating Reducing Tobacco, otherwise known as START, it was something on which they were already working. Nevertheless, people were still unaware that this decision was happening right under their noses.

After the emailed announcement of the policy in January, the few responses (55 percent supportive, of which 76 percent were students) demonstrated the need for awareness on tobacco and smoking, as well as more student involvement in this decision.

So, what is this policy all about and what does it mean for the UC Irvine campus?

First, “it applies to all UC facilities owned or leased.” This includes the entire campus and UCI-owned off-campus housing but excludes the apartments located near the University Town Center.

Secondly, “sale and advertising of tobacco products are prohibited in University owned and occupied buildings,” which already exists in UCI’s current policy on tobacco.

Lastly, “smoke-free means: smoking, use of smokeless tobacco products and the use of unregulated nicotine products are strictly prohibited in indoor and outdoor spaces, including parking lots, private residential space and the Medical Center campuses.”

While START along with the Health Education Center will be facilitating programs to help smokers adapt to  smoke-free living by providing regulated quit kits, unregulated products such as e-cigarettes will be prohibited.  The lack of research on e-cigarettes has led many to not understand its prohibition.

Bringing it back to our campus, UCI currently holds a “no-smoking 25 feet from buildings” rule and two locations — Starbucks and the Student Center Terrace — are smoke-free. Nonetheless, many students have found themselves avoiding areas such as the front of Langson Library because of the intensity of the smoke there, even though that area, by the 25-feet rule, should not have smokers. The main problem with the Langson-Gateway area is how overly represented it makes smokers appear on our campus — thus lowering the voices of those who want a change.

In reality, based on previous surveys, only 3 percent of our campus self-identify as consistent smokers, 6 percent smoke once a month or less and the rest never. Unfortunately, smoke travels and takes more than 9 percent of the air no matter where you are.

All that being said, the goal of this policy is not to single out smokers and shake our fingers but rather to promote health and positive change in our community. This is how START has approached the idea of a smoke-free campus even before the policy’s release. Implementation of quit-kits, educational workshops and community support for a healthy campus are all part of how START hopes to parallel the policy.

Student involvement is strongly encouraged whether it is to further question the policy or to join the effort. START holds a main event regarding smoking on campus each quarter such as the Great American Smoke-Out, World Butt Pick-Up day and Pause for a Cause coming up this spring. UCI’s policy taskforce will be holding several town hall meetings to discuss the issue with students as well.