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Student initiative for smoke-free campus goes live

By Jessica Iacullo / For The Pitt News

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As Mick Brennan lit the cigarette dangling from his lips, he commented on a potentially looming reality: a tobacco-free Pitt campus.

“I like being able to smoke on campus,” Brennan, a sophomore majoring in information science, said. “It’s convenient.”

Student Government Board member Graeme Meyer, a sophomore majoring in bioengineering, is pushing a tobacco-free policy on Pitt’s campus, starting with an online survey to gauge students’ opinions on going tobacco-free. The survey has garnered 154 responses since it went live April 15 on the Student Government Board website.

In the 19-question survey, Meyer asks if students would be comfortable with any of three options: creating designated smoking areas, making Pitt completely smoke-free or banning all tobacco products on campus. The survey also asks whether students use tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes and other smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco. 

After evaluating student responses, Meyer will decide which of the options, if any, would be best to include in a proposal to Pitt administration. Meyer has not started drafting a proposal as of April 16.

Meyer said the initiative comes from a health standpoint, particularly the correlation between smoking and lung cancer and the effects of secondhand smoke.

Meyer is also concerned with upholding Pitt’s title as one of the healthiest college campuses in the country. According to, Pitt ranked 12th on the list of healthiest colleges in 2012.

 “With such a medically attuned community, it just doesn’t seem right to not have that policy,” Meyer said. 

Meyer’s policy would come in the wake of Pitt’s failure to make’s list in 2013 of the healthiest college campuses, of which Virginia Tech was the only Atlantic Coast Conference school. compiles the list using nominations from readers, information on the Internet relating to health services at schools, student surveys from College Prowler, a site of college reviews written by students, The Princeton Review and a value-based scoring system for each school in consideration for the list.

Meyer said he worked closely with Marian Vanek, the director of Student Health Services, to assemble the survey, which is currently aimed at students. Faculty may take the survey as well, but Meyer said students are the primary concern at this stage in the surveying process.

Meyer said the Wellness Committee, a Student Government Board committee, Student Health and the Healthy U, a Student Affairs health initiative, will assist with the distribution of paper copies of the survey through tabling, flyer distribution and social media. 

“We support the findings of the Surgeon General that tobacco use in any form, active and/or passive, is a health hazard,” Vanek said in an email. “Thus, we support Graeme and his team with their efforts to  evaluate the potential of the University becoming a tobacco-free living and learning environment.”

Meyer said he did not want to bombard students with emails about the survey, but rather, hopes they will find it on the SGB website.

“It has the potential to render them ineffective, as people begin to ignore the emails,” Meyer said.

Since Meyer’s project is in the survey phase, he said he has not contacted many administrative members besides Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kathy Humphrey. Meyer said he’ll determine his next step based on the survey responses. 

“When you smoke around other students, you are subjecting them to secondhand smoke,” Meyer said. “It’s about respecting people’s right to clean air.”

Brennan expressed conflicting sentiments.

“I don’t think I harm others with secondhand smoke,” Brennan said. “There’s other air.”

Meyer said he’s researched many successful tobacco-free campaigns, including those at University of Maryland, Ohio State, University of Michigan and Michigan State University, which do not impose harsh punishments, if any, and said this approach seems more efficient than strict enforcement policies employed by other universities.For instance, at Ohio State University, smoking is prohibited on all university-owned and operated properties, and students or faculty who eitness direct repeat offenders can report them to their Student Conduct Councils.

Meyer said he is not prepared to make a firm statement on how repeat offenders would be punished until he has the survey results, but said that they would likely go through the University judiciary system just like those who break other campus rules 

For Meyer, the main priority isn’t the University’s enforcement but to “promote awareness and use peer pressure to enforce the policy.” 

Meyer’s initiative comes at a time when the University System of Georgia, an organizational body of public institutions of higher learning in Georgia, will enact a ban on smoking, including e-cigarettes. The ban will apply to all 31 universities in the system and will begin Oct. 1, 2014. 

Marion Fedrick, the USG’s vice chancellor for human resources, said in a press release on the organizational body’s website that the policy aims “to preserve and improve the health, comfort and environment of employees and any persons occupying USG facilities.”

The USG policy applies to all employees, students, contractors, subcontractors and visitors and is applicable 24/7. According to the statement, all USG-related events shall be tobacco- and smoke-free. Tofollow suit with the USG, Meyer plans to use his “peer pressure” model to encourage students to use the resources  of Pitt’s QUIT program, which stands for “Quit Using Irritating Tobacco.”

Megan Stahl, a health educator at Student Health, said the QUIT program is a free service offered by The Office of Health Education and Promotion as part of Student Health services to help students quit using tobacco. 

According to Stahl, the QUIT program is available to Pitt students regardless of the type or amount of tobacco they use and includes weekly one-on-one counseling sessions for students.

A health educator helps the students to understand their use, to develop a QUIT action plan and to transition to a tobacco free-lifestyle during their appointments, according to Stahl.

QUIT offers students nicotine patches at no cost. The QUIT program is based in the Office of Health Education and Promotion inside the Student Health office at Nordenberg Hall.

A question in Meyer’s survey asks if students know about QUIT because he plans to assess students’ knowledge of the program and, if awareness is low, to develop a PR plan with Student Health and the environmental committee

Becky Brown, a sophomore majoring in biology, said she doesn’t like smoking or secondhand smoke.

“It’s gross,” Brown said.

But Lindsey Guerrini, a freshman studying athletic training, said she felt that smoking does not affect nonsmoking students.

 “I don’t really care about smoking as long as it’s not directly in my face,” Guerrini said. 


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Student initiative for smoke-free campus goes live