April 24, 2009

College is first public institution of higher learning in Colorado to implement such policy

Sterling, CO--Beginning August 1, 2009, Northeastern Junior College will join dozens of other college and university campuses across the nation by becoming a 100 percent smoke-free campus. According to USA Today (October 12, 2008), there are at least 140 smoke-free campuses in the United States. In Colorado, Northeastern Junior College will be the first public institution of higher learning to become a totally smoke-free campus. Several Colorado institutions are currently developing smoke-free and/or tobacco-free policies and anticipate implementation in the near future.

In recent years, it has become rather commonplace for colleges and universities to require that campus buildings be smoke-free. In Colorado, the Clean Indoor Air Act, effective in 2006, made this mandatory for all schools and many public establishments. But nationwide, smoke-free policies on college campuses—for both indoors and out—have been steadily increasing each year for the past 3 years.

The primary purpose of the policy at Northeastern Junior College is  to eliminate exposure of students, employees, and the general public to environmental tobacco smoke, commonly referred to as second-hand smoke. In 1996, a report by the U.S. Surgeon General’s concluded that there is no risk-free level of exposure to second-hand smoke. The same report stated that involuntary exposure to second-hand smoke is a cause of disease, including lung cancer, in healthy non-smokers.

The new smoke-free policy at Northeastern Junior College is considered to be  a very positive thing for NJC and the entire Sterling community. The majority of staff members and students on the campus have been supportive of a smoke-free policy since the idea first surfaced in informal conversations and discussions. In 2007, NJC secured a grant from the Bacchus Network called the Colorado Collegiate Tobacco Prevention Initiative (CCTPI). Through the grant, a Tobacco Task Force was created on campus that allowed NJC to assess the tobacco situation on the campus and determined the need for policy changes. The grant also allowed the college to provide information and assistance to staff members and students who want to quit smoking, as well as provide educational material for about smoking, prevention, and cessation.

Last fall, the Associated Student Government Officers surveyed the students and the staff to determine whether there would be support for a smoke-free policy for NJC. Surveys of both groups indicated strong support, so the Tobacco Task Force began researching and writing the proposed policy. Following several drafts and rewrites, the final draft was proposed to the NJC Leadership Team in early April. On April 14, the policy was approved for implementation beginning starting August 1, 2009.

“To clarify, smoking will be prohibited on the entire grounds of the college including all venues where members of the general public might assemble,” explains Steve Smith, director of counseling and advising at NJC who has overseen the initiative. Smoking will also be prohibited in college-owned and privately owned vehicles on the campus. The policy will apply to all staff members, students, vendors, and visitors of NJC.  At other colleges where similar policies have been implemented, voluntary compliance seems to occur quickly and naturally.

“Our task at hand in the coming months is to get the word out,” Smith said.  Printed material will be made available campus-wide, and signs will be ordered and displayed. “We know that smokers may be frustrated by this change in policy and may have difficulty making personal adjustments. There are many people on the campus that will offer support and encouragement. This may be a great time to give serious consideration to quitting. There are some excellent resources that can help with the effort to quit.” Smith encourages those with a smoking addiction to visit the NJC Student Health Center or the Counseling Office, or their own personal physician for suggestions and help with smoking cessation.

“For those that do not have plans to quit at this time, we recognize and appreciate the personal sacrifice that you will be making while on the NJC campus,” he notes. “The air around us will be cleaner, hundreds of cigarette butts will no longer litter the campus grounds, and we will all breathe better and healthier as a result of going in this positive direction. We are truly proud to become a smoke-free campus beginning this summer.”

Northeastern Junior College, located 125 miles northeast of Denver, is the largest residential two year college in Colorado. It serves approximately 3,000 full and part-time students per year through its comprehensive offering of both transfer and technical training programs. Approximately half of NJC full-time traditional age students live on campus during the school year.