St. Thomas to Celebrate Tobacco-Free Campus

St. Thomas will become tobacco-free beginning Jan. 1 on the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses.

President Julie Sullivan approved an implementation plan, which includes smoking cessation programs offered by the university, after reviewing the plan with her cabinet of administrators and deans earlier this month.

The tobacco-free policy will affect both campuses with the exception of currently occupied residences designated for faculty and staff on the St. Paul campus. After current residents move out, each unit will become tobacco-free. The policy will not affect the Rome campus or the Gainey Conference Center in Owatonna.

“This is the right time for our St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses to become tobacco free,” Sullivan said. “We have intensively studied the issue for more than three years and have strong support from students, faculty and staff. It’s time to put the policy in place.”

St. Thomas chose to announce the policy today – Nov. 21 – in conjunction with the Great American Smokeout, which the American Cancer Society sponsors on the third Thursday of every November to encourage people to quit smoking. The Colleges Against Cancer student club, the Undergraduate Student Government and STAR are sponsoring a celebration from noon to 1 p.m. today in Scooter’s.

“A tobacco-free campus will positively change the behavior of students, faculty and staff,” said Dr. Jane Canney, vice president for student affairs, who worked with students over the three-year period on the issue. “Research shows people who quit smoking or smoke less have a better understanding of the health and wellness aspects of their lives and truly value a tobacco-free environment.”

In the St. Thomas policy, “tobacco” is defined as any lighted cigarette, cigar, pipe, clove cigarette, hookah smoked products, electronic cigarettes and any other smoking product, as well as smokeless or spit tobacco, also known as kip, chew or snus. Promotion, sale and distribution of tobacco products and merchandise, including any items carrying tobacco logos, also will be prohibited on the campuses or at any university-sponsored events.

Signs will be placed throughout the campuses, including parking ramp entrances, and there will be digital signage in buildings. A website will include answers to frequently asked questions, and St. Thomas buses will display the words, “Follow me to tobacco-free UST.”

When work began on the St. Thomas policy, 500 colleges and universities nationwide were smoke-free. That number has grown to 1,200, or 25 percent of higher education institutions, and 790 of those are tobacco-free. More than 30 campuses in Minnesota have tobacco bans.

Cessation programs available now

A variety of programs are available to help people quit tobacco use.

Health Services has expanded its hours to make it more convenient for students, faculty and staff to schedule appointments to learn about the most-effective and least-expensive ways to stop tobacco use. The initial consultation with Health Services is free.

The Wellness Center provides “Quit Kits.” Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota coverage for employees includes a telephone-based program on how to quit smoking, and a “quit coach” will work one-on-one to help employees develop a personalized plan. Prescription aids are available through Blue Cross Blue Shield, including nicotine nasal spray, a nicotine oral inhaler and oral tablets, when prescribed by a physician.

Counseling and Psychological Services will offer a smoking cessation group for students starting in the spring semester. For more information call (651) 962-6780.

ComPsych Guidance Resources, the employer assistance program for St. Thomas, offers confidential counseling services to address issues that may lead employees to smoke. Call 1-877-327-4753 for more information.

Proposal came from students

Students have been involved in discussions about tobacco-free campuses for three years.

In the fall semester of 2010, Mike Orth ’13, then president of the sophomore class and president of the Undergraduate Student Government last year, approached St. Thomas administrators about ways to reduce tobacco use on campus.

“A tobacco-free campus means two things,” Orth said last May. “First, that our university offers a safe and healthy place for students, faculty and staff to work, attend class and live. Second, that St. Thomas encourages the entire community to make healthy choices. That has an especially profound impact on students who are developing habits for the rest of their lives.”

Orth formed a USG Tobacco Policy Review Committee during the 2010-11 academic year. The committee conducted two student surveys and other research and discussed the issue with students. Supporters objected to inhaling secondhand smoke and believed limits or a ban would promote healthy practices for people to follow for the rest of their lives. Opponents said a ban would infringe on their personal freedoms and create safety concerns and littering problems by forcing people to smoke on public property, such as sidewalks, streets and the Summit Avenue median.

There are strong opinions on both sides of the issue,” Orth said last May. “A change like this takes time, and we have been careful to include every opinion in the discussion.”

Tobacco-Free Campus work group formed

Following the USG’s work in 2010-11, a Tobacco-Free Campus work group was formed in 2011 and included students, faculty and staff. After 18 months of consultation and research, the group developed a draft tobacco-free campus proposal and members last spring made 20 presentations to committees and organizations across campus.

“During the presentations, we heard many comments about policy implementation,” said Dr. Mary Ann Ryan, associate vice president for student affairs and a Tobacco-Free Campus member. “The success of the policy will depend on the cooperation of all members of our community.”

Dr. Jill Manske, a biology professor who also has a master’s degree in public health from the University of Minnesota, participated on the Tobacco-Free Campus work group. Manske and Dr. Jolynn Gardner of the Health and Human Performance Department, also a work group member, developed tools to assess attitudes and tobacco use before and after the ban.

Manske became involved in the work group after Canney asked her if she would be interested in serving as faculty representative. She said yes because of its origin as a student-generated initiative.

“It represents the type of student/grassroots ‘working for the common good’ that we hope to inspire in our students,” said Manske, who teaches a course in women’s health. “I also see this as an important women’s health issue. More men than women smoke, but smoking among college-age women has increased since the 1980s for a variety of reasons, including weight control and media exposure.”

Manske cited a 2001 U.S. Surgeon General’s report that women’s death rates due to lung cancer, a disease primarily caused by cigarette smoking, have increased 600 percent since 1950 and that “smoking-related disease among women is a full-blown epidemic.”

“Anything we can do to counter these social pressures, and to introduce a different culture around tobacco use, is important,” Manske said.

U of M will have smoking ban

The University of Minnesota also is moving ahead with plans for a tobacco-free campus, effective July 1, 2014. The changes will affect campuses in the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester and Crookston, but not Morris.

Minnesota private colleges with tobacco bans include Bethel, Northwestern, St. Catherine and St. Scholastica; most of the others don’t allow tobacco or smoking inside buildings and have restrictions on outdoor smoking. Other public institutions with bans include state universities in Bemidji, Mankato, Marshall, Moorhead, St. Cloud and Winona.