Local Colleges Reinvigorate Tobacco Prevention

What’s as addictive as heroin, more deadly than car accidents, and costs the U.S. over $170 billion in healthcare costs each year?

Yes, we’re going there. It’s tobacco.

We know: tobacco control doesn’t have the thrill of hunting down an E. coli outbreak, nor the gross fascination of a raccoon latrine. But as we express gratitude for all accomplishments big and small in public health this month, we must acknowledge this incredible public health effort, and give thanks to the local advocates keeping up the good fight against an industry spending 25 million dollars every day to keep us hooked.

After decades of hard-won gains, new challenges emerge

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Emerging products like e-cigarettes undermine policy gains.

Ten years ago this month, Washington state voters approved a ban on smoking in publicly accessible buildings, including bars and restaurants, by a nearly two to one margin. Thanks to this and other state and local efforts, tobacco use in King County declined by 50% between 1996 and 2007.

Since 2007, this decline in tobacco prevalence has stalled. “Tobacco is still the leading cause of death in King County,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health—Seattle & King County. “Yet, the tobacco industry has redoubled its efforts, introducing new products such as smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes that put youth at risk of becoming addicted to nicotine.”

Local colleges are part of the solution

Recognizing that new strategies are necessary to combat tobacco’s influence, several local colleges partnered with Public Health—Seattle & King County to raise awareness about tobacco use on campus. Given that 99% of tobacco users start before age 26, colleges and universities are critical sites to confront tobacco’s influence on young people.

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Signage at North Seattle College announces the new policy to students, faculty, and staff.

Seattle University’s tobacco-free policy and North Seattle College’s tobacco-free charter ban the use or sale of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, anywhere on campus. Both are paired with cessation support services to help students, faculty, and staff to live healthy, tobacco-free lives.

Join the One Day Stand

On November 19, Seattle Central College, Seattle Vocational Institute, and University of Washington will host a One Day Stand against tobacco as part of the Great American Smoke Out, a national day of action to encourage tobacco users to triumph over addiction. Staff and student leaders will be on campus educating community members on the resources available to help them quit. South Seattle College will host a similar event later this year.

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In the past 50 years, anti-smoking campaigns just like this one have prevented 8 million deaths nationwide. That’s something we can all be thankful for.

The renewed activism around tobacco has the potential to set a new standard for tobacco use on college campuses and among young people, helping tobacco users quit and preventing those who might have used tobacco from ever starting.