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Working toward a smoke-free campus

Strength of nicotine dependence tied to violations of campus smoking ban

Student smokers who appeared to be more dependent on nicotine were more likely to violate Oregon State University’s ban on smoking after the policy was adopted, new research has found.

“Across the U.S., university smoke-free policies have been very popular and generally effective, but 100 percent enforcement is often a challenge,” says Marc Braverman, a professor and Extension specialist in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU and the study’s lead author.

“This is the first study that looks at the characteristics of smokers who violate a smoke-free policy. That’s important information for colleges and universities as they implement and enforce smoke- and tobacco-free policies.”

Marc says several of the statistical findings in the research suggest that a general level of dependence on nicotine is the most important factor driving policy violations.

“One implication is that universities need to devote more resources to helping people quit tobacco use,” he says.

The findings were published recently in the journal Preventive Medicine. Co-authors are John Geldhof of OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences; Lisa Hoogesteger of Linn-Benton Community College; and Jessica Johnson of Southern Nevada Health District.

When the idea of a smoke-free campus policy was introduced at OSU in 2008, only 130 campuses nationwide were smoke-free or tobacco-free. As of July of this year, that number has jumped to more than 2,200 campuses, according to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, an advocacy group that tracks tobacco policies nationwide. Of the 2,200 smoke-free campuses, more than 1,800 are also tobacco-free.

“We know that addiction is a progressive process,” Marc says. “If people continue to smoke, they are likely to become addicted. A smoke-free policy can help break the cycle of addiction because it can disrupt people’s smoking habits and hopefully prevents them from transitioning into regular users.”

Researchers evaluated the 2012 policy implementation because the lessons learned by OSU leaders can inform decision-making at the university and at other college campuses across the U.S.

In spring 2013, after almost a full academic year with the policy in place, the researchers invited all students, staff and faculty at OSU’s Corvallis campus to take a web-based survey. More than 5,600 students and 2,000 faculty and staff members responded.

The current study focused on about 1,100 student survey participants who had reported use of cigarettes, other combustible tobacco products or electronic cigarettes within the last month.

About a third of the smokers indicated they had violated the campus no-smoking policy at least once, and seven percent of the smokers indicated they had violated the policy many times. The more days students reported smoking in the last month, including both cigarettes and other combustible tobacco products such as cigars and hookahs, the more likely they were to violate the policy.

In addition, those students who had used nicotine replacement products – either gum or patches – were also more likely to violate the policy.

“This result is surprising,” Marc says, “because the use of nicotine replacement therapy suggests a desire to reduce smoking, and the availability of those products provides a way to comply with the policy. The finding that nicotine replacement therapy users were more, rather than less, likely to smoke on campus suggests that their smoking may have been due to strong nicotine dependence.”

OSU’s current smoke-free campus policy took effect in 2012. An OSU Tobacco Policy Task Force is now reviewing the university’s 100 percent smoke-free policy to consider expanding it to a 100 percent tobacco-free policy, which would include chew and other smokeless tobacco products.

A revised policy would also extend to all OSU properties, including OSU-Cascades, OSU’s new Portland Center, the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport and county Extension offices, in addition to the Corvallis campus.

“We want to really focus on the health and wellness of our university community as we move forward with the new policy,” says Marion Ceraso, an associate professor of practice who is leading the Tobacco Policy Task Force with Marc. “We need more visible promotion of the policy and easily available cessation resources for everyone who wants to quit and needs support.”

Campus officials have observed that many instances of policy violation are due to people who are visiting campus, including fans attending sporting events or workers on campus for a contracted project. Campus visitors may not be aware of the policy or the campus boundaries within which it applies.

As part of the policy review and update, the researchers plan to conduct a new survey of faculty, staff and students on the Corvallis campus this fall to get a better sense of how the smoke-free policy is working now that it’s been in place for several years and to gauge the campus community’s opinions about revising it.

“Generally what researchers find is that these kinds of policies tend to get more popular over time,” Marc says. “After a policy is implemented, people begin to accept it and appreciate its effect. The norm changes tend to take hold quickly.”

For more information about OSU’s smoke-free policy and the effort to expand the policy to 100 percent smoke-free and tobacco-free, visit: health.oregonstate.edu/tobacco-free/faq.