Coastal Carolina University is gearing up for the official launch of its tobacco-free initiative Aug. 1, but the new policy began changing lives soon after it was announced in January.
Deborah Hardee, an administrative assistant in counseling services, took advantage of the pilot smoking-cessation program offered to faculty and staff in the spring and kicked the habit March 20. The program is one of the resources being made available to those on campus to help them comply with the new policy, which is part of the LiveWell @ CCU program to promote overall health at the university.
“I’m so proud of myself,” said Hardee, a smoker for more than 30 years who had tried to quit several times before. “It is probably one of my biggest accomplishments.”
CCU is following a national trend among colleges and universities to take their campuses smoke-free or tobacco-free. Most of the feedback from students and staff has been positive, although some diehard smokers say they will continue to smoke, just not on university property.
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At least 1,343 U.S. colleges and universities have 100 percent smoke-free campuses, and 925 of those 100 percent tobacco-free, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. The foundation lists 22 smoke-free campuses in South Carolina, with the majority of those also tobacco-free. The University of South Carolina is on the smoke-free list but moved to tobacco-free status Jan. 1, while the College of Charleston, which is not on the list, will go tobacco-free July 1.
Tobacco-free means no cigarettes or smoke-related products, including cigars and chewing tobacco, and while a person may be in possession of those products, they are not allowed to use them, even in their vehicles. CCU’s policy also will prohibit the use of e-cigarettes, which are not allowed anywhere on 167 campuses that made the foundation’s list. University officials say the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still consider e-cigarettes tobacco products because of the nicotine levels they produce.
CCU has taken steps to help students and employees adjust to the new policy. A website has been created, www.coastal.edu/livewell, that answers questions and lists available resources, while the I Quit program, which has instructors certified through the American Lung Association, will be available to faculty, staff and students in the fall.
Hardee was in the eight-week program, one of three who graduated out of six who signed up. Lamonica Yates, director of training and employee services, said 50 percent is considered a success in smoking-cessation programs, and the classes are small so participants can bond and support each other.
“I’m not going to lie – it was very difficult, but this was a way [for the university] to support the staff, and I thought, ‘This is it. This is my way to quit,’ ” said Hardee, who said she is now breathing and feeling better. “I never thought I’d be one of those people who say, ‘If I can do it, you can do it,’ but I really believe if I can do it, you can do it.”
Some smokers on staff say they weren’t surprised by the new policy, but that doesn’t mean they have to like it. And there always is the possibility they too will try to quit.
“I would love to quit, and I would love to want to quit,” said JoAnna Dalton, who has been smoking for 35 years. “So far, I haven’t managed to do that, but if my brain gets to that place, I will probably take advantage of what they’re offering.”
Patty Lee, however, is sure she will just have to grin and bear it. A smoker since age 16, she said she has tried several methods to quit and always ends up sick.
“To be very honest, I have no intentions of quitting,” Lee said. “I know after Aug. 1, I won’t be able to do it on campus, but that’s OK, I’ve gone all day before.”
Just under 70 percent of students were in favor of the policy in a poll taken during student elections last fall. Almost 80 percent of CCU students are not smokers, according to a health survey administered last year, said Debbie Connor, vice president of student affairs, who said while support for the change isn’t 100 percent, most of the student response has been positive.
“We also got a huge round of applause when it was announced to students and parents at our first new student orientation [last week],” Connor said. “I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect that.”
Connor said many CCU students, especially those from the Northeast, are accustomed to smoke-free policies that have been enacted in their home states. The nonsmokers foundation lists 26 states, commonwealths and territories that have 100 percent smoke-free laws in all non-hospitality workplaces, restaurants and bars, along with 38 municipalities, including North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach.
“Most of my friends are not from here, and the ones from up North were surprised when they came here and saw that smoking was such a prevalent thing,” said rising sophomore Lindsay Hickman. “I’ve heard more about it from faculty – I think most students are more concerned with class schedules and the cost of things.”
Hickman said there were student and faculty debates that were well-attended, and she thinks the majority of students are in favor of the policy. She said she is very much for the change, as she has had heart issues since she was a baby, as well as asthma, and can’t handle the smoke.
“It was even difficult getting to and from classes because they had these gazebos [for smokers] near the major walking intersections, and you really couldn’t get around the smoke,” she said.
Connor said those gazebos will be refurbished and moved to different spots on campus to provide covered, outdoor gathering areas. Signage also will be going up around campus to educate the public – who also are expected to abide by the policy when they visit or attend events.
“I think it’s a very progressive thing for them to do,” said rising senior Alexandra Morris. “It’s not something that only affects the smoker. It’s for everyone else who should not be forced to be exposed to secondhand smoke and part of a healthy movement.”
Sherer Royce, associate professor of health sciences, is a longtime advocate for tobacco prevention and said, in general, most people want to see this type of change. She said there is no safe level for secondhand smoke, but there is a host of problems linked to smoking, including lower productivity, more health problems and the environmental impact of cigarette butts, which are the most littered item.
“I’m excited for all the benefits it’s going to bring to our community, but we won’t see change immediately overnight,” Royce said. “Behavior change is a slow process, and the pendulum is still swinging to where it becomes the cultural norm.”