The University of Arkansas is on schedule to become one of the first major universities in the country to completely ban tobacco and tobacco products from its campus. University officials intend to give the Fayetteville campus community and its visitors more than a year to adjust to the policy: the ban is scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2008.
"Obviously, this is a health issue," said Mary Alice Serafini, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and director of the Pat Walker Health Center. "Tobacco is harmful to anyone who uses it, and even non-users are harmed by second-hand smoke. We see a tobacco-free campus as a health benefit for the entire campus community."
In 2001, the University of Arkansas joined many other schools in the country to ban smoking in its buildings and within 25 feet of all building entrances. Tobacco sales also were banned on campus. Since then, two members of the University of Arkansas System have done more. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences adopted a campuswide smoking ban in July 2004. The University of Arkansas-Fort Smith joined several smaller colleges and universities across the country and opted to go tobacco-free in January 2005.
Now, the University of Arkansas is poised to take a national leadership role in health on campus. Health officials on the Fayetteville campus started seriously considering the more comprehensive ban late in 2005 after attending a workshop on tobacco-free campuses in Springfield, Mo. Serafini said the success of the policies at the other two UA campuses influenced that decision, along with the fact that most hospitals in the state have gone tobacco-free. Even more impetus for change came when Arkansas passed its own statewide restrictions on smoking in public places through the Arkansas Clean Indoor Air Act.
The University of Arkansas' tobacco free policy was developed by Serafini, using a model provided by the federal Center for Disease Control. Students in the substance-abuse prevention class taught by Dr. Ed Mink have made several suggestions; campus administrators and other student groups have been consulted, and support information has been provided by the UAMS College of Public Health and the Northwest Arkansas Tobacco-Free Coalition.
The draft policy is still being revised, but its basic outline is clear:
• The use of all tobacco products, including "smokeless" products, will be prohibited on all university property, indoors and outdoors.
• The ban will apply to visitors as well as students, faculty and staff.
• The ban will include all University vehicles, including buses.
• Tobacco will be banned at all indoor and outdoor athletic activities.
• The tobacco-free policy will apply to anyone organizing or attending an event using University facilities.
The new policy also will ban campus-controlled advertising, sale or free distribution of tobacco products on campus. Campus organizations will not be permitted to accept money or gifts from tobacco companies. Littering the campus with the remains of tobacco products also is prohibited.
"We have a comprehensive policy, and we have strong support across the campus community," said Serafini. "The key to successfully implementing this policy will be education. Fortunately, education is what we do best. For the next 14 months we will be educating our students, faculty and staff, as well as the public, about what a tobacco-free campus means."
That education will begin almost immediately as information about the new policy is added to the New Student Orientation programs this summer. Officials from the Pat Walker Health Center will meet with the student, faculty and staff governing bodies early in the fall semester to explain the policy. Flyers about the tobacco-free policy also will be circulated around campus, particularly in the residence halls.
"We understand that this will be a significant change for a segment of our population," said Serafini. "About 20 percent of our students report frequent use of tobacco; the percentage is higher for University employees. We want to give them all the help we can to adjust to these changes over the next year. We also want to help them see this as an opportunity - an opportunity to quit using tobacco."