A Smoke-Free SDSU


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by Yukari Suzuki

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Editor’s note: This story is the first installment of The Daily Aztec’s new health blog series, check back every other Thursday for contributions from members of the San Diego State community.

Whether Aztecs pursue undergraduate or graduate studies, we are all here for a common purpose: to follow our dreams.  We know that being a student is not just about attending classes and earning a degree. It is also about tradition: wearing school colors and cheering at football games.  Why do we do these things?  We want to connect with peers and be part of something larger than ourselves.  We want to feel a sense of belonging in the community of 35,000 students.

Some of the Aztec identity results from explicit university policies.  For example, undergraduates must complete a study abroad experience to graduate.  We understand that this requirement shapes us into globally minded citizens and validates our goals in scholarship and community service.  Other aspects of SDSU encourage us to be successful in our future lives.  For example, the Aztec Recreation Center helps us value our health by supporting an active lifestyle now so that we will continue this after we graduate.  Another Aztec health distinction is embodied in the new sandwich boards placed around campus with the universal “no smoking” symbol on them.  These signs remind us of SDSU’s commitment to becoming a smoke-free campus.

This commitment is not unique to SDSU.  Since the Ozarks Technical Community College in Missouri started the smoke-free campus movement in 2003, 1,477 U.S. colleges and universities have followed suit, including SDSU in 2014.  The UC system and the San Diego community colleges also became smoke-free in January 2014 and 2007 respectively, and now California is one of the leading states with the most smoke-free institutions of higher education.

The national trend towards smoke-free policies extends beyond school campuses, of course.  In the 1970s, the American Cancer Society created the first national smoke-free movement and declared the third Thursday of November as the Great American Smokeout, a day for smokers to make a plan to quit or to mark the first day of being smoke-free.  Since 2000, states have begun passing laws banning smoking from restaurants, bars, and workplaces.  One thing is clear: smoke-free policies are becoming the new norm.

Campuses with the smoke-free campus policy have experienced variable success in reducing smoking and protecting non-smokers from exposure to second-hand smoke.  Some schools exact a punishment for violations (Ozarks Technical College imposes $15 fines and 2-hour periods of picking up cigarette butts), and these schools have had more rapid adoption of the smoke-free policy.  Other schools such as Northeastern University near Chicago take an honor system approach, much as we do at SDSU.

Perhaps due to the novelty and the lack of strict enforcement in the policy, whether Aztecs have begun embodying the smoke-free campus policy is inconclusive.  For the last four years, SDSU Graduate School of Public Health Professors Jenny Quintana and Thomas Novotny have hosted the Kick Butts Off Campus event.  During this campus-wide cleanup, around fifty student volunteers collect more than 20,000 butts collected in one hour.  Even after the smoke-free policy went into place in this year, student volunteers collected a number of cigarette butts comparable to previous years.   With tobacco responsible for 1 in 5 deaths in the US, this is a sad sign that Aztec students are putting their health and, in turn, their dreams, in jeopardy by using tobacco products.

So, why do Aztecs continue to smoke?  Stress? To “be cool?” To meet people at parties?  To pass on a family tradition?  None of these reasons are justified in terms of one’s educational experience at SDSU.  We are young minds, constantly dreaming about our future.  Tobacco use in any form (including e-cigarettes) can only get in the way of these dreams.   Let’s help each other become smoke-free Aztecs.  Let’s use the Great American Smokeout (November 20) to support the new SDSU smoke-free tradition; it can work if we all try!

Nicotine addiction is a powerful driver of smoking and makes it harder to quit the longer one smokes.  If you or your friends would like guidance or help in quitting smoking, call the SDSU Student Health Services (619-594-4133) or the American Cancer Society hotline (1-800-227-2345)

-This story was contributed by Yukari Suzuki, Health Management and Policy Representative for the Graduate School of Public Health Student Council.  Suzuki is not a staff member of The Daily Aztec.

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