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OSU smoke- and tobacco-free policies became more popular over time, even among tobacco users

Support for policies prohibiting smoking and the use of tobacco products on Oregon State University’s Corvallis campus grew substantially over a five-year span, especially among tobacco users.

sunlight comes through trees on Oregon State University's Corvaliis campus

By Molly Rosbach

Support for policies prohibiting smoking and the use of tobacco products on Oregon State University’s Corvallis campus grew substantially over a five-year span, especially among tobacco users, a recent OSU study found.

The study, published earlier this month in the journal Preventive Medicine, is unique in its analysis of support for smoke- and tobacco-free campus policies over a long period of time. Most other studies of attitudes toward smoking policies only assess a single point in time.

“Tobacco-free policies are one of the most effective things we can do to reduce the burden of tobacco use, and they are highly supported and growing in popularity,” says Marion Ceraso, co-author on the study and an associate professor of practice and Extension Specialist in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

Tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., and people are most likely to start using tobacco in their adolescence and early 20s, so intervening during college years is crucial, she says.

“These policies are effective in several ways: They reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, prevent initiation and help people quit, especially when cessation support is accessible,” Marion says.

The researchers used two surveys conducted at OSU, one in 2013 and one in 2018, that asked members of the campus community about their smoking and tobacco-use habits and their support for two separate policies: smoke-free campus and tobacco-free campus.

Smoke-free campus policies prohibit only combustible tobacco products, usually including vaping devices. Tobacco-free policies are broader, applying to any kind of tobacco product, including non-combustible products such as chew, snus and snuff.

OSU enacted a smoke-free campus policy in 2012, a few months before the first survey was conducted.

In the 2013 survey, 72% of students and 77% of faculty and staff were in favor of a smoke-free campus. Support was highest among non-tobacco users. Among self-reported tobacco users, only 36% of students and 29% of faculty and staff supported a smoke-free policy.

Five years later, overall support rose to 73% among students and 84% among faculty and staff. But approval among tobacco users jumped dramatically: The 2018 survey found 48% of students and 49% of faculty and staff supported the smoke-free policy.

Researchers found an even more dramatic shift in support for a fully tobacco-free campus. In 2013, only 19% of student tobacco users and 16% of faculty and staff tobacco users supported a tobacco-free policy. In 2018, those numbers rose to 35% and 28%, respectively.

Overall support for the tobacco-free policy grew significantly, too: from 52% to 62% among all students and from 59% to 70% among all faculty and staff. In 2019, in large part because of the positive responses in the 2018 survey, OSU enacted a tobacco-free policy that applies to its Corvallis and Bend campuses, county Extension offices and other locations.

The increased support among tobacco users was especially telling, says Marc Braverman, lead author on the study and a professor and Extension Specialist in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

“These policies hinder tobacco users from engaging in that practice, and yet, almost half of them think the university should be smoke-free,” he says. “They are putting the health of the community over their own immediate convenience with regard to tobacco use.”

Arguments for smoke-free spaces center on the effects of smoke on other people, so it’s easier to make the case for smoke-free policies than for banning smokeless forms of tobacco, Marc says.

“But the fact that tobacco-free policies are gaining support is an indication that tobacco is becoming less acceptable overall. It’s just not standard any more,” he says. “There seems to be increasing acceptance of the view that universities can take steps to protect the health of their communities through comprehensive tobacco-free policies.”

Other co-authors on the study are graduate students Phineous Sporrer and Briana Rockler.