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WSU going tobacco-free

Wichita State University students have a smoke between classes.
Wichita State University students have a smoke between classes. Eagle file photo

Students, faculty, staff members and visitors at Wichita State University won’t be allowed to use tobacco on campus beginning next summer.

WSU’s policy begins on July 1 and effectively bans tobacco use – including cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes – on the entire WSU premises, which include sidewalks and streets within WSU’s campus.

The policy allows for people to smoke in designated outdoor spots during sporting events, with prior approval from the university.

Tara Nolen, tobacco control coordinator for the Kansas Academy of Family Physicians and coalition coordinator for Tobacco Free Wichita, said many students try cigarettes in college – either at parties or because of stress.

They consider themselves social smokers or say, “Oh, I’ll give this up after college,” and that tends not to be the case.

Tara Nolen, tobacco control coordinator

“They consider themselves social smokers or say, ‘Oh, I’ll give this up after college,’ and that tends not to be the case,” Nolen said.

“I really think it’s (the policy) going to change that culture.”

The state and nation

The push for a tobacco-free campus at WSU dates back to about 2005, and a student-run organization called Tobacco Free Wu & Me led much of the effort.

Nolen said efforts for tobacco-free campuses are most successful when driven by students, but that can sometimes slow the process because of natural turnover from student graduation.

Plus, she said, universities have increasingly faced funding cuts, so other issues often take priority.

Twelve Kansas community colleges, technical colleges and universities have tobacco-free campuses, including Fort Hays State University, Pittsburg State University and Butler Community College.

Roughly 1,400 colleges and universities nationwide have tobacco-free campuses. An additional 1,700 campuses are smoke-free, banning smoking of cigarettes but not including chewing tobacco or e-cigarettes.

Student push

Emma Crabtree, past president and current vice president of Tobacco Free Wu & Me and a graduate student at WSU, said the July 1 start date allows Tobacco Free Wu & Me time to publicize the policy and aim for cooperation rather than punishment when it goes into effect.

By the time the policy actually happens, very few people are going to be surprised.

Emma Crabtree, vice president of Tobacco Free Wu & Me

“By the time the policy actually happens, very few people are going to be surprised,” she said.

She said Tobacco Free Wu & Me conducted studies and focus groups about attitudes toward tobacco-free policies.

The studies found that nearly 65 percent of WSU students and employees preferred tobacco-free campuses.

She said Tobacco Free Wu & Me plans to put signs around campus that say the area is tobacco free.

“People aren’t going to want to smoke right in front of a sign that says ‘no smoking,’ ” she said.

Crabtree said she sees this policy as a benefit to WSU’s image and anticipates it could help enrollment rather than hurt it.

And, she said, it positions WSU as an example for Kansas State University and the University of Kansas.

“This will allow those other universities to gain momentum,” she said.

“It always helps when you have other universities and their experiences.”

Gabriella Dunn: 316-268-6400, @gabriella_dunn

Tobacco-free campus event

Tobacco Free Wu & Me will host a celebration event for the adoption of Wichita State University’s tobacco-free campus policy.

Who: Public is invited

What: Event includes speakers, a photo booth and prizes

When: 2-4 p.m. Nov. 16

Where: Wichita State University CAC Theater, 1845 Fairmount

How much: Free

Source: Tobacco Free Wu & Me

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