KU group wants campus tobacco-free by fall 2015

Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo A cigarette dangles from a patrons hand Monday, June 21, 2010 at the Perry Bar and Grill.

A Kansas University initiative aims to ban smoking and other forms of tobacco from campus by fall of 2015.

As the Tobacco Free KU initiative pushes for a university policy change, it’s also working to get buy-in from students, faculty and staff.

“Our ultimate goal is to create a culture change on campus,” said Ashley Hrabe, KU senior and founder of Breathe Easy at KU (BEAK), the student group affiliated with the official KU initiative.

“Not only is it going to affect the current students on campus, if the policy were to come into place it not only affects future students, it affects community habits as well.”

Tobacco Free KU describes its mission as promoting a “respectful, healthy and clean environment for students, faculty, staff and visitors.”

BEAK and KU’s departments of Human Resources, Student Health Services and Recreation Services are co-sponsoring the initiative, which also has support from the Office of the Provost, according to Tobacco Free KU’s October progress report.

Efforts started in spring 2013, when student and faculty surveys gauged opinions about the possibility of a tobacco-free campus and University Senate passed a resolution encouraging Student Senate to develop a more restrictive smoking policy, according to the report. KU got a $25,000 grant from the Kansas Health Foundation to help research the viability of going tobacco free.

This year, stakeholders have been trying to get the word out to campus about Tobacco Free KU as well as smoke and tobacco related health risks, Hrabe said.

Recent outreach included participating in November’s Great American Smokeout. Group discussions and smoking-related movie screenings are among events planned for coming months.

A major next step is getting Student Senate on board, which is important because it would show that students support the initiative, Hrabe said. “We’re trying to do bottom-up instead of top-down.”

More than 1,400 campuses nationwide are now smoke-free, with 975 of those fully tobacco-free, according to October numbers from the Tobacco Free College Campus Initiative, tobaccofreecampus.org. A growing number — now 292 — also prohibits e-cigarette use anywhere on campus.

KU added e-cigarettes to its smoking policy this spring, meaning people are banned from using them in or near buildings, just like cigarettes.

That change and the Tobacco Free KU initiative are not without pushback.

Many students and faculty smoke, and some have said they’re against further regulation of it on campus, Hrabe said. She’s hoping Tobacco Free KU efforts can create “positive change” by making people think differently, even though she knows they won’t be able to change everyone’s minds.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department is one off-campus organization with representatives on Tobacco Free KU committees.

Community health planner Charlie Bryan said the health department sees the effort primarily as a human resources issue. He said not only is KU the largest employer in town, it employs a significant number of young adults.

“A lot of employers are considering being tobacco free,” he said. “It’s increasingly an area where employers are recognizing the cost of tobacco use, not only in health but in the loss of productivity.”