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UNLV could snuff out smoking, tobacco use on campus

UNLV is considering a new policy that would prohibit on-campus smoking and tobacco use.

If approved, the change would ban smoking — including the use of electronic cigarettes — and tobacco products such as chewing tobacco in all university spaces, both indoors and outdoors. It would apply to students, employees, contractors and vendors, and visitors.

Under state law, smoking in any form is already prohibited in indoor workplaces, including spaces owned or occupied by the Nevada System of Higher Education. But UNLV students and staff are allowed to congregate in various outdoor areas of the campus to indulge their habits.

That would end if the policy switch is approved by the university’s leadership, a move that would bring UNLV in line with more than 2,000 U.S. colleges and universities, including the University of Nevada, Reno, that have banned smoking and tobacco from their campuses.

Shawn Gerstenberger, dean of UNLV’s School of Public Health, said the policy would encourage people to quit smoking and also provide safe environments where people won’t be exposed to second-hand smoke.

A campus smoke-free policy has been attempted multiple times in the past, Gerstenberger noted.

“Unfortunately, they were not successful,” he said.

Born from the pandemic

The new push for a ban has its roots in the COVID-19 pandemic. UNLV, which has more than 30,000 students and several thousand full-time employees, instituted a face mask mandate on campus in early 2020 that applied to both indoor and outdoor settings.

One of the realizations that came from that: You can’t smoke while wearing a mask. In essence, UNLV implemented a smoke-free policy without even intending to do so, Gerstenberger said.

A few months ago, UNLV’s School of Public Health started the effort to change the policy. A draft was sent to the university’s policy committee for review and a 30-day public comment period is now underway.

At the conclusion of the public comment period, backers will have two weeks to make any revisions before submitting a final draft to university administrators for possible adoption. If approved, the policy would go into effect at the beginning of whichever academic semester starts at least 90 days later, possibly as soon as January 2022, Gerstenberger said.

He said he doesn’t have current data about how many UNLV students or employees smoke or use tobacco products on campus.

Notices about the new smoke-free policy would be posted on the university’s website and on campus.

The School of Public Health recognizes it’s difficult to quit smoking and free resources will be available for employees or students who want to make that change, Gerstenberger said.

UNLV employees and students can access the free Nevada Tobacco Quitline, which also is available to the public. More help with quitting smoking “may be available” through employee health insurance plans and for students at the Student Wellness Center, according to the policy.

A first violation of the policy by a student or employee would be addressed “through education about this policy and about smoking and tobacco-use,” according to the policy. But further violations may result in a verbal warning or written documentation, under the draft.

Employees and students weigh in

UNLV higher education professor Vicki Rosser, who was chair of the school’s Faculty Senate last school year, said the Senate hasn’t taken a position on the proposed policy.

But when there was conversation a couple of years ago about a smoke-free campus proposal, “The sense of the Senate was that this is probably a long time coming,” Rosser said.

The biggest concern, though, was how the university would help people who use tobacco products if a policy was implemented or “is it just going to be turning off the faucet immediately?” she said.

The effort to make UNLV a smoke-free campus has been pushed by the school administration and students — including student government — for a long time, said UNLV student body President Caren Yap.

“The fact that it’s being put through to fruition is honestly, it’s very forward thinking,” said the 20-year-old who’s studying business.

It’s also the perfect time for action, Yap said, since many more students will soon head back to campus for in-person classes during the upcoming school year. Since March 2020, most classes have been held remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Student body Vice President Abraham Lugo, 20, who’s studying political science, said that with a transition back to being in-person on campus, there’s a push to talk about the health risks and concerns that come with smoking.

What other schools are doing

The American College Health Association put out a position statement in 2011 saying it “encourages colleges and universities to be diligent in their efforts to achieve a 100 percent indoor and outdoor campus-wide tobacco-free environment.”

UNR announced a new policy in March 2014 and it went into effect in August 2015. The university provided tobacco cessation resources for students and employees.

Prior to the policy, more than 85 percent of UNR students were already tobacco free, school said in a 2014 announcement.

Melinda Ickes, a faculty member at the University of Kentucky, and her colleagues have provided support to more than 500 campuses and organizations in creating tobacco-free policies.

The university itself went tobacco free in 2009. At the time, very few campuses nationwide had taken the step, Ickes said.

But over the last five to seven years, an increasing number of campuses have moved that direction, she said. One major reason: National organizations such as the American Cancer Society are providing more support, such as grants, to help schools make that change.

The tobacco landscape is always changing and initially, smoke-free policies were focused more on cigarettes and cigars, Ickes said.

But now, there’s an understanding that policies need to include all tobacco products, she added, including electronic cigarettes, which are the most used tobacco product among young adults.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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