September Johnson, Wesleyan’s alcohol and other drug specialist, acknowledges that Wesleyan’s move to becoming a tobacco and vape free campus will be a big change for the community.
The policy went into effect on Jan. 1, 2022. And Johnson said that there will be plenty of support measures in place to help.
“We, as a community, are here to support each other through this change,” Johnson said in a campus all-staff meeting on Nov. 29 where the policy change was announced.
No tobacco products will be allowed anywhere on campus. “Tobacco use continues to be a leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States. Hazards of second-hand tobacco smoke are well known. Tobacco is the only product that, when used as intended, leads to serious illness and premature death. There is no safe form of tobacco or nicotine with the exception of nicotine replacement therapy,” Johnson said in an e-mail.
According to information provided by WesWell, almost 5,000 people a year in Connecticut die from smoking. Over 25 percent of the cancers found in the state are related to tobacco use. Each household pays about $850 a year in state and federal taxes towards smoking related government costs.
“Tobacco related deaths are the most common ones we face, including lung cancer, emphysema, and cardiovascular deaths. Tobacco can also cause other diseases, including oral and throat cancers, chronic lung conditions, and it can worsen asthma,” said Dr. Thomas McLarney, Wesleyan’s Health Director.
Johnson said the idea of going tobacco-free has been in discussion for some time. Johnson and her colleagues reached out to campus partners to collaborate on how the policy would be crafted. A grant from the Department of Public Health helped create educational and prevention materials.
However, the rise of COVID-19 hastened Wesleyan’s decision. “Smoking and vaping increase an individual’s risk of contracting COVID and of experiencing worse outcomes, as the second-hand smoke from these products can weaken immune systems,” Johnson said.
The overall cultural trend supports Johnson’s initiative. She said that while cigarette smoking has decreased among college students over the past couple of decades, rates of vaping among this age group have increased—a habit that studies show could encourage smoking.
“To encourage and support individuals who use tobacco and vape products in their efforts to quit, comprehensive cessation resources for faculty, students, and staff are available. For faculty and staff, this includes Wellness Points, quit kits, Nicotine Replacement Therapy on an as needed basis, individualized information and resources and more. Students have the similar resources as well,” Johnson said.
“Nicotine is an extremely addictive substance. But with support and medications, including nicotine replacement, overcoming the addiction can be done,” McLarney said.
The policy is not intended to be punitive, Johnson said. Her goal is to help foster “a community of care” around the university.
“A policy such as this will help protect and promote the health of our community, now and for years to come. Policies such as this also protect and promote the health and well-being of those who choose not to use tobacco and nicotine products and those that do, while reducing health disparities. The supportive and educational approach Wesleyan is taking to this policy will help bolster our community of care and set us up for a healthier living, learning, and working environment,” she said.
For more information, visit WesWell.