University of Florida goes tobacco-free come July

By | 06.24.10 | 7:56 am

Following a national trend that has seen close to 400 campuses introduce bans on smoking, the University of Florida will become the first public college in the state to impose a policy forbidding smoking and the use of all tobacco-related products on campus. In 2007, the school expanded an earlier prohibition on smoking indoors to include areas within 50 feet of university buildings, and a referendum last May to designate the entire campus tobacco-free was approved by two-thirds of students.

The UF Health Science Center and Shands Hospital adopted the policy in November, after the university opened its new cancer hospital.

“It would be hypocritical to facilitate smoking on our campus while treating people with the same disease that this is causing,” said Shands CEO Dr. Timothy Goldfarb.

“I understand the pull of addiction; I was a smoker many years ago,” Goldfarb said. “We hope that our employees know the health problems caused by smoking, and I don’t think the banning will be much of a hurdle.”

The Florida Hospital Association provided some revealing statistics to support the tobacco-free initiative:

  • Tobacco dependence is our nation’s most preventable cause of death and disease. Nationally, tobacco use is responsible for nearly one in five deaths or an estimated 440,000 deaths per year. That’s approximately 1,200 people each day – more than deaths caused by alcohol, cocaine, crack, heroin, homicide, suicide, car crashes, fires and AIDS combined.
  • Tobacco use is the #1 cause of all cancers and emphysema, and it is a leading preventable cause of heart disease and stroke. Tobacco use among pregnant women contributes to low birth weight and premature delivery. Besides lung cancer, tobacco use also causes increased risk for cancer of the mouth, nasal cavities, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidney, bladder, uterine cervix and myeloid leukemia.
  • Smoking causes more than $167 billion in annual health-related costs, including adult mortality-related productivity costs, adult medical expenditures and medical expenditures for newborns.

Healthy Gators 2010, an organization made up of students, faculty and staff, created a tobacco task force in early 2009 to push for the campus-wide ban — meant to protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke in addition to encouraging smokers to quit. UF has been and will continue to offer cessation classes to students, employees and their families, and will not be issuing citations to those who violate the policy.

The rule will not be enforced by authorities, said Paula V. Fussell, UF’s interim vice president for human resource services. UF officials hope the ban would consist of  word-of-mouth encouragement amongst peers.

But, she said, “If a university employee repeatedly goes against the policy there will be disciplinary action. We are hoping that our employees will be ambassadors for this policy.”

While there are some who feel the mandate is overreaching, many, including current smokers, are supportive of the new rules and feel it can help them kick their habit.

“It’s a pretty good thing for me because I want to reduce my smoking,” said 25-year-old UF graduate student Chrysafis Vogiatzis.

Vogiatzis said although he knows some smokers feel it is their right to smoke, he thinks they are wrong.

“It is not exactly a right,” Vogiatzis said. “A right to free air is more important for everyone.”

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