What tobacco free means for NKU


Kody Kahle

The Board of Regents voted in favor of a tobacco-free policy that will take effect in 12-18 months, according to President Geoff Mearns.

The winter break did not slow down Northern Kentucky University faculty from working on changes to the campus. As of Jan. 9, NKU will begin the transition to tobacco free, joining the University of Kentucky and Morehead State University as one of Kentucky’s tobacco-free campuses and the University of Louisville as a smoke-free campus.

Research and plans to go tobacco free have been in the works. A student survey presented by the Wellness Center in spring 2011 recorded that approximately 89 percent of students at NKU do not smoke and 75 percent of those who do smoke want to quit. In fall 2012, the Student Government Association also polled students and found that 69 percent are in favor of or indifferent to the campus going tobacco free.

A 2005 NKU graduate, Josh Blair, said he thinks the university is taking the right step. “It’s a good public health policy,” he said, because it goes along with many decisions Kentucky has committed to with smoking bans.

Implementing this campus policy will be part of a broader institutional effort to create a campus culture of mutual respect, health and sustainability, according to Director of Wellness Karen Campbell.

In comparison

With this information, Campbell presented to the Board of Regents Jan. 9 on how the primary goal of going tobacco free is to bring NKU up to date with trends across the nation.

The emphasis on Kentucky is important, according to Campbell. As of 2011, Kentucky is number one in the nation with adults who smoke at 29 percent, according to a Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The national average is 21.2 percent.

Not only in Kentucky, but colleges and universities nationwide are moving to tobacco or smoke-free campuses. Currently, two-thirds of college campuses have made the transition, bringing the total of tobacco and smoke-free campuses to over 700 nationwide.

The University of Kentucky went tobacco free in fall 2009. The University of Louisville made the transition to smoke free, which includes cigarettes, pipes, cigars and any product that produces smoke, in 2010. Most recently, in 2011, Morehead State University chose to go tobacco free as well.

What happens next

The transition to tobacco free will take 12 to 18 months, according to President Geoff Mearns, after a campus task force is put into place.

The task force will be made up of sub committees, which will work to address the needs of campus constituents, including students, faculty and staff. The force will be co-chaired by Campbell and Dean of Students Jeffrey Waple.

Similarly, the University of Kentucky currently uses a task force to keep the tobacco-free policy in place on campus.

UK implemented the use of a task force called Tobacco-Free Take Action. The ambassadors of Tobacco-Free Task Force help with compliance on campus with scripted conversations used to approach violators. According to Ellen Hahn, co-chair of the Tobacco-Free Taskforce at UK, the ambassadors and volunteers approached over 300 violators within the first weeks of the fall 2011 semester.

Campbell said some resistance to the policy is inevitable and full compliance to the policy is not realistic, but it’s “a small minority” that would be resisting, according to findings from previous surveys.

UK also makes use of a system called the 3T’s of tobacco-free policy implementation. The T’s are: tell about the policy through signage and communication, treat tobacco users by providing support and train staff and volunteers in scripts for handling violators.

At UK, students who violate the smoking policy, specifically continual violators, are given warnings and asked to sign up for programs to encourage smoking cessation. Most of the time, Hahn said, they don’t have to use warnings, just asking violators to put out the cigarette is all it takes.

Melinda Ickes, director of UK’s Tobacco-Free Take Action, said the policy wasn’t meant to be “heavy-handed,” but focused on compliance and making sure the campus recognized the policy.

With the task force, Hahn said, there is always a bit of negative response at the beginning of each semester, but “people get it after a while.” Once it’s more well-known, there is a rise in positive reaction and students and faculty taking advantage of the university’s free smoking cessation options.

“It’s always going to be that way,” Hahn said. “It’s always going to be a constant reminder … a constant campaign.”

Currently, NKU’s Wellness Center provides many options for students, faculty and staff to quit smoking, including references and information on where NKU can receive the most thorough treatment.

Cost wise, the projected budget for going tobacco free is $125,000 total, based on various cessation programs, products and support. NKU now spends approximately $50,000 on cleaning up tobacco products on campus.