A Tobacco-Free Conversation

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“We all just got a letter.”

“As I recall it was sent via email to all faculty, staff and students. It was an announcement from the Office of the President. That was the first I had heard of it, and the first anybody here had heard of it,” said Meg Kobe, senior health educator at Student Health Outreach & Promotion (SHOP).

Former UC President Mark Yudof sent the letter in January 2012, addressing students, staff and faculty with a deadline: tobacco-free by Jan. 1, 2014. Kobe, along with 14 others, formed the UCSC steering committee, a panel of professionals whose job was to ease the campus through the transition of the ban — a policy decided for all UCs nearly two years before it was implemented.

“The hardest part was trying to take all of the moving parts, and coming up with something that is realistic, given the timeline, given the budget constraints — basically coming up with some concrete solid implementation plan,” Kobe said.

Aside from students, the policy applies to staff, faculty, visiting speakers and anybody working on UC owned property, like the Long Marine Lab or University Relations on Delaware Avenue. There were also other logistical puzzles, like what to do with all of the ashtrays, how to replace the “no smoking within 50 feet’” signs with “no smoking” signs, or what to include in quit kits — packets including objects designed to help deter people from smoking, like candy, straws and gum, as well as the phone numbers of several helplines.

The steering committee had just short of two years to sort out these questions, but the most difficult factor was helping smokers through the transition.

“For folks that are social, or occasional smokers, it’s not that difficult,” said Saladin Sale, co-chair of the UCSC steering committee. “But this is a difficult transition for folks that have been smoking for a number of years that actually have a physical addiction.”

The physiological difference between casual smokers and frequent smokers is that prolonged exposure to nicotine, which releases pleasureful neurotransmitters, is habit forming, Sale said.

“For folks that give it up, it’s not a mental decision and it’s not an intellectual decision,” Sale Said. “It’s really visceral. It’s in their gut, and they’re in pain.”

This is a process the steering committee is hoping to mediate, as they offer a variety of cessation options, yet they realize the decision is ultimately not up to them. Kobe, who works in SHOP, said that in the two weeks prior to the ban being implemented, she provided more students with kits than in the last 10 years.

“People are on a continuum with their behavior change,” Kobe said. “Some people are super motivated and some people are not quite there yet.”

She helps students through all sorts of cessation processes, whether it be alcohol, tobacco or other drugs, and said if SHOP wants to be successful in aiding someone through the difficult transition, they have to cater to their specific situation.

“I can’t tell you to quit smoking if you don’t want to quit smoking,” Kobe said. “But if you tell me you want to cut back, or slowly taper off in spring quarter when you’re less stressed and think you might be able to quit, then we will come up with a plan to meet those needs.”

Physical addiction is only part of the difficulty in guaranteeing the ban’s success. There are other factors raising fire safety and littering concerns, especially UCSC’s location.

Illustration by Maren Slobody.
Illustration by Maren Slobody.

“Off-campus is one or two miles away from anywhere on campus,” said Christopher, a fourth-year student who smokes, and who chose not to use his last name. “It’s not like we’re at a campus where I can easily walk off and go smoke on a public street, like Berkeley or Davis.”

UCSC’s sprawling and natural terrain make it difficult for somebody on campus looking to smoke a cigarette. The quickest and safest option, without littering, is to walk or take a bus to the base of campus, smoke, then find the nearest trash can, which is at the bus stop on Bay and High.

“We’re starting to hear of people smoking in the woods and in the ravine behind the College Nine residence halls,” said Colleges Nine and Ten administration officer Deana Slater. “Some people said they saw students putting ashtrays out there.”

Smoking in wooded areas has been an anxiety for UCSC, especially considering California’s current drought. Santa Cruz’s total rainfall this year is 8 inches as opposed to the normal 13 inches. In addition, the UCSC campus is flammable and has suffered five fires in the last six months, three of which were due to suspected arson.

“The fact that there is no designated area anywhere on campus is problematic, especially considering we’ve had no rain for quite some time, which only increases the fire hazard and perhaps magnifies the littering issue,” Christopher said. “Removal of the ashtrays definitely contributes to those problems since smokers have to take to the seclusion of the forest to fulfill their needs.”

Given the isolation of our campus and the habit forming nature of tobacco, many smokers will violate the ban. Despite this, the steering committee is working hard to introduce the policy in what they have referred to as a “light rollout.”

“We want this to be educational,” Kobe said. “We want to make sure everybody knows about the policy and that we recognize the challenges of it. We support and encourage those who are having a hard time to seek the appropriate resources, whether they are faculty, staff or students.”

UCSC’s Smoke & Tobacco-Free Policy, which can be read on the Smoke and Tobacco-Free UCSC website, reminds the campus population they are not only expected to adhere to the policy, but to uphold it. This includes referring smokers to weekly smoking cessation classes hosted by SHOP, or reporting a smoking incident on UCSC’s non-compliance form — an online report in which people can describe the location, time and nature of the violation.

Smokers already had their disapprovers, like UCSC staff, faculty or students with asthma, or those have lost a loved one to a smoking-related death. One of the steering committee’s biggest aims was to mediate the ways in which these people confront smokers about the policy.

After being approached three times since the ban began, Christopher said people have not necessarily upheld the policy in an educational fashion.

“Two faculty members yelled at me and a friend said to me, ‘there’s no smoking on campus,’ as if the plethora of banners weren’t getting the message across,” Christopher said. “Somehow, I was to be enlightened and start respecting the ban. It seems somewhat contradictory since the literature of the policy asks students and faculty to politely remind smokers of the ban yet I’ve only been condescendingly told what I should be doing.”

Christopher said he thinks about quitting everyday, but is waiting for a time when he is in the right mindset and can fully commit to the difficult process, and until then, he thinks an educational approach is just a means of prevention.

Infographic by Annisa Karaca
Infographic by Annisa Karaca.

On the other side of the argument, supporters feel the ban is a necessary step for the UC, an institution invested in furthering medical progress. Zachary Janatpour, president of UCSC’s American Medical Student Association (AMSA) and fourth-year biochemistry major, thinks it is the UC’s responsibility to adopt a smoke-free policy.

“UC Santa Cruz, and all of the UCs, spend a lot of time and money on biomedical research,” Janatpour said. “It’s counterintuitive to have a staff that’s promoting health, being a role model in the community for health, spending money on health and not demonstrating healthy habits on their own.”

He said this argument would also explain why e-cigarettes were also banned, because although they haven’t been proven to produce dangerous secondhand smoke, there is little research about long-term use.

Although he expressed some apprehension about the ban, particularly in the way it affects freshmen who must live on campus for their first year, Janatpour is mostly supportive of the policy. For Janatpour, not only does the ban reflect the UC’s role as a research institution, but it might encourage some people to reconsider their habit.

“The smoker who is not as serious as the habitual smoker, the one who doesn’t smoke every day, may be deterred from smoking on campus,” Janatpour said.

In August 2011 at a UC-wide occupational wellness forum, a committee named The Smoking Policy Subcommittee of the Occupational Wellness Forum (SPSOWF) was established to reduce injuries and costs within the UC system, with smoking cessation as their main focus.

Ten researchers from the UC system, including San Diego, Davis, Riverside, Berkeley and the Los Angeles, Davis and San Francisco medical centers, comprise the committee. They were asked to write a three-part report, including a rationale for changing to a smoke-free system, a proposed time line, an implementation plan and proposed language for the policy.

The committee, which had been submitting studies about tobacco use to former UC president Mark Yudof, released a 24 page long Smoke-Free Policy Proposal (SFPP) in October 2011. Saladin Sale, co-chair of the steering committee, said Yudof asked that they organize all the information and hand him the report. When they did, he liked what he read.

“That’s what really triggered it with Yudof,” Sale said. “The UC research community that treats occupational injuries and student health was advocating for smoke and tobacco-free policy for the UC, and they kept building the evidence.”

The proposal includes an arsenal of statistics, explaining why the committee is advocating for the policy. It begins with this statistic: 443,000 people die per year from prolonged tobacco use, making it the biggest preventable cause of death in the United States. The third biggest cause of preventable death: secondhand smoke, killing 50,000 people per year.

The policy proposal also contains UC and UCSC specifics. About 8 percent of UCSC’s students and 10 percent of staff are smokers. Roughly 16 percent of college students nationwide smoked in the last 30 days, compared to 7.9 percent of UC students who smoked in the last 30 days.  Similarly, 9.9 percent of UC employees smoke, compared to 11.9 percent of Californians and 19.6 percent of the nation.

The UC’s unilateral decision to ban smoking may seem extreme, but there are concurrent instances in which statistics trump tradition. A month after the UC ban, CVS Pharmacy announced it would stop selling tobacco products across the United States despite the loss of roughly $2 billion in sales. President Obama backed the decision in a statement, saying CVS Pharmacy is setting a “powerful example” to inspire a healthier country.

The growing trend of e-cigarettes is another example of turning tides. The three big tobacco companies, Reynolds American, Altria and Lorillard, have all launched their own version of e-cigarettes. A month after the ban was implemented on campus, Altria bought Green Smoke for $110 million, an e-cigarette company boasting the motto, “feel great about what you smoke.” Philip Morris, the massive company within Altria, just invested $680 million in a factory to build tobacco heating products — think vaporizers for tobacco.

Saladin Sale, co-chair of the steering committee, said this is a perplexing market for big tobacco to enter, since e-cigarettes are often sold as a way to wean off traditional cigarettes. Either e-cigs are not actually an effective way to quit smoking or big tobacco sees the writing on the wall and is putting their eggs in less lethal baskets.

“I think short of a full reconstruction of who the vendors and purveyors of tobacco are, I see them going on the outs,” Sale said. “It’s an unsustainable type of industry. I’m talking about burning tobacco with all of its demonstrated problems. I think we’re going to go beyond tobacco, and there’s going to be something else.”

Infographic by Annisa Karaca.
Infographic by Annisa Karaca.

Tobacco has not always been so divisive, nor has it always been perceived as unhealthy. During the heyday of tobacco advertising in the ‘50s and ‘60s, tobacco company slogans were as misleading as they were catchy. Sale said he recalls when “four out of five doctors smoked Camels,” and you could “ask your doctor, they’ll recommend Chesterfields.”

“[Tobacco advertisers] spent their wad in the early ‘50s all the way through the ‘60s — until the federal ban on advertising on radio and television — with lies and made up studies and misdirectional commercials,” said UCSC economics professor Ken Germann.

Colleges Nine and Ten administration officer Deana Slater recalls a local step forward in this gradual shift in smoking culture. When she started working at Colleges Nine and Ten, all other colleges had dorm rooms that allowed people to smoke cigarettes. This was in 2000, the same year smoking was officially banned on all U.S. flights. It was not until the 2004-05 academic year that smoking in dorm rooms was officially banned in UCSC’s terms and conditions.

Colleen Allen, another member of the steering committee, acts as co-chair of two sub-committees, the communications and marketing committee and the education, training and cessation support committee. She worked closely with staff through the transition, and she too recalls a more lax climate for tobacco.

“Most people remember when you could smoke in any restaurant and some may even remember when you could smoke on airplanes,” Allen said. “At the time of these changes there was resistance, but over time it has become the standard. Looking back, it’s amazing to think about what was allowed.”

Germann had a front row seat to the changing smoking climate at UCSC. When he first started working here a little over 10 years ago, he had a routine of smoking a cigar during class breaks and office hours — not just tasting the cigars, but inhaling them. Yet Germann noticed this habit became more and more alienating for him.

He recalls teaching a marketing class exactly six years ago, in which he asked the 100 students to raise their hand if they smoked cigarettes, and nobody raised their hand. Germann took this as his cue to quit smoking cigars after 50 years of inhaling them.

“I would walk 25 to 50 feet from the crowd of students. But nobody in the class smoked, so they had to approach me through a cloud of smoke,” Germann said. “My realization was that I was getting out of step with the world.”

The UC-wide tobacco ban, Professor Germann’s decision to quit smoking cigars and the final legal cigarette smoked in a UCSC dorm room are all small percolations in a long, contested boil. They do not arise in a vacuum, and are instead the result of a multifaceted conversation surrounding tobacco, with many differing opinions and even more moving parts. Regardless of these opinions, the tobacco ban is now a part of UCSC’s character.

“If that’s the consensus of the area that’s fair. If the community feels that it doesn’t want to be affected I think that’s how it should go,” said Zachary Janatpour, president of UCSC’s American Medical Student Association (AMSA). “Smokers have the right to smoke, but I think they also have to abide to what the community wants.”