The following appeared in a Feb. 16, 2012 edition of The Inkwell. The opinion expressed in this column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Inkwell editorial board.

Inkwell Guest Editorial:
Why Armstrong Is Going Tobacco-Free


By Sara Plaspohl, Dr.P.H.
Special to The Inkwell

Last week, Armstrong announced that the university will officially become a tobacco-free campus as of August 2012. 

Currently, smoking is permitted in designated areas on campus. The new policy, which was originally suggested by the Student Government Association in 2010, bans cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and other tobacco products in an effort to respect and support the health and wellbeing of everyone on the Armstrong campus.

This new policy reflects Armstrong’s desire to provide a healthy learning environment for students and a healthy work environment for faculty and staff, which is all part of the university’s mission. Armstrong is proud to take a leadership role in our community and to create an environment that eliminates the presence of secondhand smoke and respects the health of everyone on our campus.

Why is it important to create a tobacco-free environment at Armstrong? First of all, smoking has serious health consequences. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • The adverse health effects from cigarette smoking account for an estimated 443,000 deaths, or nearly one of every five deaths, each year in the United States.
  • More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from AIDS/HIV illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined.
  • Smoking causes an estimated 90% of all lung cancer deaths in men and 80% of all lung cancer deaths in women.
  • An estimated 90% of all deaths from chronic obstructive lung disease are caused by smoking.

Second, exposure to secondhand smoke is also a major concern, particularly since many of our students, faculty and staff suffer from asthma, allergies and other medical conditions. Serious health conditions like heart disease and lung cancer have been linked to secondhand smoke in numerous studies.

In fact, breathing secondhand smoke interferes with the normal functioning of the heart, blood and vascular systems in ways that increase the risk of having a heart attack. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has found that non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30%.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that secondhand smoke causes an estimated 46,000 premature deaths from heart disease each year in the United States among nonsmokers. The American Cancer Society has documented the fact that secondhand smoke causes an estimated 3,400 lung cancer deaths among U.S. nonsmokers each year.

Third, smokeless tobacco -- including chewing tobacco and snuff -- also has serious health implications. The National Cancer Institute reports that smokeless tobacco contains 28 different carcinogens or cancer-causing agents. Smokeless tobacco has also been linked to cancer in humans in numerous studies.

Finally, from an environmental perspective, cigarettes are not biodegradable.  Cigarette filters are made of non-biodegradable plastic, cellulose acetate.  They also contain hazardous chemicals and toxins, which can leach into the environment, cause bioaccumulation up the food chain and damage water supplies and commercial fisheries.  During the fall, a group of 12 students collected 4,003 cigarette butts on the Armstrong campus in one hour.  Hot spots for butt litter included building entrances, the Compass Point Gazebo between the 4000 and 8000 Buildings, next to ashtrays and in plant beds.

The decision to make Armstrong a tobacco-free campus was made after careful consideration and after listening to a range of voices in the university community. The university’s new policy supports the City of Savannah Smoke-Free Air Ordinance of 2010, which is already in effect throughout the Savannah area. In the coming months, Armstrong will be offering numerous opportunities for students, faculty and staff to quit smoking and eliminate tobacco use.  

Instead of serving as a restriction on the freedom of students, faculty and staff, Armstrong’s new tobacco-free status serves as an opportunity to make our campus an even healthier place for everyone.

 

Sara Plaspohl, Dr.P.H., is an assistant professor of Health Sciences at Armstrong who served as chairman of the university’s Tobacco Control Task Force, which included a broad constituency of faculty, staff and students as well as community partners.