Students Butt Out

Clark County’s higher education campuses could be tobacco-free by 2012

Photo by Geri Kodey/ courtesy UNLV Photo ServicesDr. Nancy York

Four years ago, Nevada voters passed the Clean Indoor Air Act, banning smoking inside most public places. Now, a movement is under way to make even the outdoors of Clark County colleges and universities smoke-free by 2012.

Dr. Nancy York, an assistant professor at UNLV’s School of Nursing, is spearheading the effort, which is being funded with a grant by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Funding of $14.6 million was initially received by the Southern Nevada Health District for its Tobacco Control Program. That money was distributed it to partners across the Valley, with $450,000 of it going to the tobacco-free campus initiative.

“If the campuses of higher education can push and move forward and become tobacco-free, and the students see that as the norm, we’re hoping that will spill over into the state and that the graduates of these universities will want to work in smoke-free environments,” York says. “The state took the first step with the Clean Indoor Air Act, which we’re very proud of, but I see us, in the university setting, taking the next step.” The goal is to get rid of smoking and tobacco use on campus entirely. If that is accomplished, UNLV, the College of Southern Nevada and Nevada State College will join the ranks of at least 446 smoke-free campuses across the United States.

Right now, York says she hears the most complaints about people smoking outside of the library and the student union at UNLV. Her goal is to establish minimum smoking distances outside of buildings and around gathering areas. She also wants to put a stop to tobacco companies from sponsoring school organizations and events.

But the first step to becoming tobacco-free is, of course, students’ willingness to quit. A recent UNLV survey found that 15 percent of its students smoke, with more than half stating they’d like to quit smoking before they graduate. The university is offering smoking-cessation services, support and counseling to students who want to stop smoking. Those services are now available on campus for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

University physicians and nurses have also been trained in smoking intervention and will write prescriptions for students who want a little pharmacological help. Over-the-counter medications are also available (students must pay for prescription and non-prescriptions drugs). Eventually, York hopes to also offer free counseling services to faculty and staff.

Rhone D’Errico, a graduate assistant to York and student in the UNLV School of Nursing master’s program, quit smoking in 2009 after nearly 15 years. He says when he was an undergraduate at UNLV, he wasn’t aware of any smoking-cessation programs. He quit on his own, with the help of the patch and Zyban. He says it was no easy feat, and hopes that students will take advantage of the free services the school is offering. But he emphasizes that the goal of the program lies in making a healthier campus, not in telling students what to do.

“We want to help support people in cessation efforts and we want to make sure they have all the resources, but the bottom line is we’re really not looking to tell anybody to change their individual behavior,” he says. “We’re not looking to force any personal change on anybody.”