“A Cultural Shift:” University Weighs Tobacco-Free Campus

Tom Sullivan, the president of the University of Vermont, is expected to announce before the end of the semester whether the Burlington school will move forward with a plan to make the campus tobacco-free, said Dr. Jan Carney, UVM's associate dean for public health.

For more than two years, UVM has been weighing whether to ban all forms of tobacco and e-cigarettes on its grounds: on the walkways, the greens, everywhere. Burlington's city sidewalks on the campus perimeters would not be affected.

"It's a cultural shift," Carney told New England Cable News Friday. "We want to be a healthy campus—with healthy students, faculty, and staff—and environmentally conscious. This may be one way, through this conversation, to be even better than we are now."

Carney said there is no safe level of second-hand smoke, and said she finds it troubling that surveys have shown a quarter of UVM's student smokers picked up the habit while students at the university.

About 20 percent of people aged 18-24 smoke cigarettes, according to the UVM Tobacco-Free Steering Committee.

More than 1,500 college campuses nationwide are now fully smoke-free, with more than 1,000 of those tobacco-free, the group Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights has said.

Backers of the UVM ban argue the move, coupled with education campaigns and cessation programs, would draw down smoking rates and make the campus cleaner.

"I usually hold my breath on the way through," said UVM student Doug Vormstein-Schneider, describing the experience of walking through someone else's cloud of cigarette smoke on campus.

"It's unhealthy; it smells bad," added Emily Hartman, another UVM student.

Smokers necn talked to were skeptical the proposal would actually have a significant public health impact.

"To just completely ban it is asking for conflict, because people are going to smoke cigarettes," said Asher Buchong, who was visiting friends who are students at UVM.

"I think if they made more of a goal that was designed at like, 'OK, well, if kids are going to smoke, what can we do to make it pleasurable for people who don't smoke on campus, like having designated areas?' That would be better," said UVM student Cole Rachman, another smoker. "As it is, it's unrealistic."

The draft recommendations from UVM’s tobacco-free steering committee recommend that there be no "smoking shelters" or designated smoking areas on campus. More specifics on the committee's recommendations are available here.

UVM President Tom Sullivan is now poring over the steering committee's recommendations, Carney said, before the expected announcement this spring.

Smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths in the United States each year, including an estimated 42,000 from second-hand smoke exposure, the steering committee said.

Vermonters can access help to quit smoking through the Vermont Health Department website

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