Students and faculty at UW Seattle met in Thomson Hall to watch “Addiction Incorporated” with members of the UW Tacoma campus over Skype Thursday night as a part of National Public Health Week.
The documentary film, which explores the ways in which the tobacco industry creates addictions for American consumers, was shown simultaneously on both campuses as part of an event sponsored by the UW registered student organization, Tobacco Action Group (TAG).
“We’re just trying to bring together a lot of stakeholders to promote our cause,” said Ragan Hart, a graduate student in UW’s Public Health Genetics program and member of the TAG.
That cause, Hart said, is the implementation of a formal ban on tobacco and smoking on all UW campuses.
“The college campus is an incredibly important environment,” said Patrick O’Carroll, Assistant Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS).
According to O’Carroll, if a person doesn’t smoke by the age of 26, they probably never will. This makes the average university student, in their late teens or early twenties, a high-risk population still likely to begin smoking.
Additionally, high school students want to be like college students, meaning if undergraduates smoke, younger people are likely to smoke in imitation, O’Carroll said.
For this reason, O’Carroll and the regional office of the USPHS created the Fresh Air Campus Challenge aimed at making all institutions of higher education smoke and tobacco free by 2016.
This goal has not been easily met. In 2013, the ASUW Student Senate voted against a four-part resolution that called for the administration to make campuses completely tobacco and smoke free. The resolution also pushed for the allocation of resources to increase awareness, expressed support in cessation, and pushed for the creation of a task force to guide the implementation of this plan.
At the time, UW Provost Ana Mari Cauce argued against the ban for several reasons, including her belief that such a ban would impinge upon the individual freedom of students and others smoking or chewing tobacco on campus.
“But by not restricting smoking and tobacco use on campus, you’re restricting everyone else’s right to a healthy lifestyle,” said Albert Ng, deputy director of ASUW’s Student Health Consortium.
Though the UW still allows tobacco on campus and smoking in designated areas, many other schools in Washington state have moved to enforce campus-wide bans. WSU passed a referendum to create a tobacco and smoke free campus last month.
“There are 1,182 smoke-free campuses in the country, and considering there are just over 1,400 campuses total … it’s concerning that a university as large and as great at this (has not enacted a ban),” Ng said.
For the USPHS and members of the TAG, improving health outweighs all other concerns. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that tobacco is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States and a threat to public health.
According to O’Carroll, 20 million Americans have died as a result of tobacco use in the last 40 years and 2.5 million of those deaths were the result of secondhand smoke.
“It’s easy to forget about how important tobacco is,” O’Carroll said. “[But] we know what we need to do … Stop taking up smoking and quit smoking when we’ve started.”
Reach Special Sections Editor Eleanor Cummins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @elliepses