Special to the Register
RICHMOND — Eastern Kentucky University President Michael Benson on Friday announced that a task force has been established to finalize a tobacco-free policy on campus, to take effect June 1.
The task force will develop implementation strategies that assist the university community with the transition, a university news release stated.
Since 2006, the university has prohibited smoking in buildings and restricted it to designated locations on campus. Benson said it is anticipated that the new tobacco-free policy will not only prohibit the use of tobacco products in and around buildings, but also eliminate its use throughout campus, including all outdoor areas.
“We have an opportunity to improve the health of everyone who steps on our campus,” Benson said in a video (video.eku.edu/tobacco-free) and letter posted on the university’s home page. “Second-hand smoke exposure causes nearly 50,000 deaths each year among adults in the United States, and it is also linked to numerous health issues – including heart disease and lung cancer. Tobacco use is the leading cause of avoidable death in the United States, contributing to 443,000 deaths each year.
“These statistics,” Benson continued, “demonstrate the need to make improvements. We care about the health and well-being of all our students and employees, and we want to provide everyone with a chance to attend school and work in a safe and healthy environment. The truth is there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco products.”
Noting that a Presidential Suggestion Box he announced at Fall Convocation has received numerous messages in support of making the campus cleaner and healthier, Benson said, “We have found it to be in the best interest of all those on campus to improve the health of our community by removing the exposure and use of tobacco products.”
Benson said the tobacco-free policy enjoys “the support of the great majority of our faculty, staff, students and governing board, and is supported by the results of the April 2012 tobacco-free campus survey. It is our responsibility as educators, role models and concerned members of our campus community to do the greatest good.”
The EKU president noted that nearly 800 college campuses nationwide and many within Kentucky, which has the highest tobacco use rate in the nation, are completely tobacco-free, adding that many of those institutions report higher success rates in quitting tobacco use, lower health care costs and increased enrollment.
As of 2012, Benson said, EKU employee insurance plans – the university is self-insured – covered nearly $900,000 for preventable health conditions associated with tobacco use. “If more employees stop using tobacco products, this cost could be greatly reduced.
“It is important to note,” he added, “that a tobacco-free policy is also consistent with other campus policies that seek to reduce injury and illness by eliminating hazards and unsafe conditions on campus. We are not saying (EKU students and employees) must quit smoking, but we are saying you will not be able to use tobacco while you are on the EKU campus. If you are ready to quit, we want to support your efforts.”
Toward that end, the university will provide resources, including counseling, a smoking cessation program using the Cooper/Clayton method, and other support services as identified by the Tobacco-Free Task Force. A website containing resource information, activities and other related information about the policy and task force will be operational soon, Benson said.
“It is our hope that this policy will help our campus to build an environment of mutual respect and consideration, as well as show ourselves as leaders in our community while keeping our ‘Campus Beautiful.’”