Editor’s note: The author is a member of the Tufts Tobacco-Free Initiative.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 41,000 deaths due to lung cancer and heart disease are attributed to secondhand smoke each year in the United States—with no risk-free level of exposure. At 480,000 deaths annually, cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States; this figure is larger than those for deaths due to alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, firearm-related incidents, illegal drug use, and HIV combined.
Since the 1950s, we have known that tobacco use has significant negative impacts on health. Communities throughout the country have taken steps to reduce secondhand smoke exposure and to provide resources for those who want to quit. States, cities, and towns have passed ordinances relating to this issue, including Medford and Somerville, both of which have raised the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21 years. The policy shift arose from a 2012 Surgeon General report finding that 90 percent of smokers in the US started before the age of 21, and 21-year-old nonsmokers are likely to remain nonsmokers.
Tufts would not be alone if it adopted a tobacco-free policy. As of January 2, 2017, at least 1,468 campuses are 100 percent tobacco free, 18 of which are in Massachusetts. In 2012, Tufts Medical School adopted a tobacco-free policy, while the Medford-Somerville campus policy states that no smoking is permitted within 25 feet of any Tufts building. This policy is barely enforced, and people regularly smoke in heavily trafficked areas including the entrance ways to Tisch Library, dining halls, and dorms.
The Tufts Tobacco-Free Initiative was created in Fall 2013 when students in Professor Jennifer Allen’s Community Health class proposed a tobacco-free campus policy after being asked to identify a public health intervention they wanted to see implemented at Tufts. Over the past three years, students in the Initiative have been conducting extensive research on the implementation of a tobacco-free policy in several peer schools, and have been meeting with key stakeholders, including students, administrators, and public safety officials, to gauge support and understand how this kind of policy could be uniquely adapted to Tufts. The group has also collaborated with Human Resources to draft a policy and an implementation plan to be carried out over several years.
Members of the Tobacco-Free Initiative understand the difficulties of quitting smoking, and have been working with Health Promotion and Prevention, Health Services, and HR to make evidence-based smoking cessation resources available for all students, staff, and faculty at no or limited costs. These resources will not only include cessation programs, but also nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products. Because stress is a major contributing factor to tobacco use, Health Promotion and Prevention now plans to offer a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program.
One concern is that the policy could disproportionately affect certain groups that are more likely to use tobacco and are marginalized in other ways. The Initiative recognizes that the tobacco industry has, for years, extensively marketed to members of marginalized groups to increase their tobacco use. The goal of a tobacco-free campus is not to alienate anyone, but rather to designate our campus as a healthy space. While recognizing and respecting the rights of people who choose to smoke, it is also important to recognize the right of every member in our community to clean air, free of secondhand smoke. It is important to note that Tufts is a very small campus, one where getting off campus is a short walk. By reducing tobacco use on our campus and by providing ample educational and therapeutic resources, the hope of this Initiative is to encourage healthy behaviors and to prevent members of our community from becoming just another statistic.