May 29, 2013 12:00AM
After nearly seven months of work that included surveys, focus groups and open forums, Pittsburg State University’s Tobacco Policy Task Force has recommended that the PSU campus go completely tobacco-free. The task force submitted its report to PSU President Steve Scott on May 17. Scott and the President’s Council will consider the recommendation, with a decision expected in June.
Scott created the 15-member task force in November of 2012 in response to a student referendum in the spring in which students voted overwhelmingly in favor of a tobacco-free campus. More than 900 students voted in that referendum, which was the highest turnout for a student election in more than a decade.
Jim Triplett, a long-time member of the faculty and former chairman of the Department of Biology, and Rita Girth, operations director of the Bryant Student Health Center, were selected to lead the task force.
“I can’t thank the members of the Tobacco Policy Task Force enough for their hard work,” Scott said. “They took their work seriously and spent an incredible amount of time doing research and listening to the many different groups on campus. Throughout the process, they treated everyone with great respect and gave consideration to a wide range of opinions.”
According to the task force report, the group began by assessing campus knowledge and perceptions about tobacco use. They used focus groups that included students, staff, administration and off-campus constituents. The task force also conducted extensive surveys with the assistance of undergraduate researchers in the Communication Research Lab.
During the course of its study, the task force collected vast amounts of information on everything from the health and economic costs related to tobacco use to seemingly arcane facts such as the cost of installing and maintaining outdoor receptacles for cigarette butts and staff hours devoted to cleaning up after smokeless tobacco users.
According to the report, the taskforce considered three options. The first was to recommend no change to the current campus tobacco policy. The second was to recommend a smoke-free campus and the third was to recommend going totally tobacco-free.
According to the report, the task force rejected the first option because it “does not provide adequate protection from second-hand smoke, does not prevent litter and environmental contamination from all forms of tobacco use, does not address the global impacts of tobacco use and does not provide a learning environment that promotes a healthy lifestyle and investment in future productivity.”
The second option, a smoke-free campus, was not much better than the current policy, according to the report, because it “does not prevent and may increase environmental contamination from other forms of tobacco use.”
Only the tobacco-free option, the task force concluded, reflected the university’s “commitment to provide a safe, healthy and respectful working and learning environment.”
Ensuring compliance with a tobacco-free policy should be the shared responsibility of all students, employees and visitors, according to the task force. The group recommended using a combination of actions including signage, education and encouragement. Enforcement should be reserved for chronic offenders, according to the report.
A key component of the task force’s recommendation is the development of plans to inform employees and students about available support and cessation resources and to continue to educate them about the risks of tobacco use.
The task force suggested that if its recommendation is accepted, the campus community should be given six months to a year to prepare for the policy change. The report noted the importance of clearly communicating the reasons for the change and ways that the new policy would be implemented and enforced.
The report recommends the creation of an implementation team, appointed by the president, to work through operational issues related to the new policy. That group, according to the task force, should be composed of students and representatives from all across the campus.
Steve Coen, president and CEO of the Kansas Health Foundation (KHF), praised the work of PSU’s Tobacco Policy Task Force.
“Tobacco-free environments remain an important and effective way to protect the health of Kansans,” Coen said. “Through the careful examination of this issue by the Tobacco Policy Task Force, Pittsburg State has established itself as a university committed to exploring ways to promote the health and safety of its students, faculty, staff and visitors.”
The university received a $25,000 grant from the KHF, which allowed the task force to obtain the assistance Ty Patterson, director of the National Center for Tobacco Policy, who is an expert on developing and implementing tobacco policies for higher education institutions.
If Pittsburg State University adopts the task force recommendations, it would become the first public university campus in Kansas to go smoke-free or tobacco-free. Nationwide, more than 1,159 college and university campuses have enacted smoke-free policies and of those, 783 have adopted tobacco-free policies.