Tobacco users argue their “right” to use cigarettes and other products, while nonsmokers say they deserve to live and work in healthy environments without the haze and harmful effects of secondhand smoke (and thirdhand smoke that clings to clothing and other surfaces).
No matter which side you fall on, it’s a fact that across the United States, universities and health systems are making the choice to create healthy living and working environments for students, faculty and staff. Ever since Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield, Mo., became the nation’s first smoke-free college campus in 2003, more than 1,100 campuses have followed suit. The Center for Tobacco Policy foresees that nearly all college campuses in the United States will be 100 percent smoke-free in 10 years, according to a CNN report. It’s estimated that more than 3,500 hospitals, health-care systems and clinics are smoke-free.
All of us – even those who choose to use it – know the harmful effects of tobacco use. Ninety percent – 90! – of all lung cancers can be directly related to tobacco, and it also is a risk factor for eight other cancers, including head, neck, esophageal, stomach, kidney, bladder, cervical and blood cancers – not to mention cardiac disease and stroke.
AND WHAT ABOUT those nonsmokers who breathe in the haze of secondhand smoke in their workplaces or classrooms, or from outdoor public ashtrays? A statement by the surgeon general of the United States issued in 2006 is equally applicable today: “There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.” In addition, the surgeon general’s report also found that levels of cancer-causing and toxic chemicals are higher in secondhand smoke and, even more, that breathing in secondhand smoke increases the risk of developing heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmokers by up to 30 percent.
Georgia Regents University kicks off its smoke-free campus campaign March 20, which is appropriately named Kick Butts Day. Our goal is for our entire campus to be smoke-free by fall 2013. As a sponsor of this initiative, the Georgia Regents University Cancer Center is working to provide community education on the benefits of quitting, the dangers of secondhand smoke and help for those looking to quit – including tobacco cessation services offered through our cancer center.
After all, our students are the leaders of our future – and it is important to educate them on the benefits of living tobacco-free by providing a healthy learning environment. Studies have shown that smoking affects cognitive function, including memory, but that quitting can reverse many of these effects.
It is our responsibility as a university and as a cancer center to provide a cleaner, safer and healthier learning and working environment for all our students, faculty and staff – and to help improve public health. On March 20, instead of taking sides, we hope we can agree to stand together and take a positive step in reducing cancer risk and promoting a healthier community.
(The writers are, respectively, director of the Georgia Regents University Cancer Center; and executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at GRU. Both are co-sponsors of GRU’s tobacco-free initiative.)