Each month, NACDD seeks to highlight the excellent work being done by State Health Departments across the country. This month's "I Count!" story comes to us from the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Tobacco use will be prohibited on all Georgia public college campuses. The Georgia Board of Regents, the body governing the 31 colleges and universities in the University System of Georgia, unanimously approved a tobacco ban for all campuses at a meeting on Tuesday, March 18.
Effective October 1, the policy prohibits the use of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, on any property owned, leased or operated by the University System, including outdoor areas and parking lots. The Georgia Tobacco-Free for Colleges and Universities policy is an extension of the Georgia Department of Public Health's (DPH) Tobacco-Free School policy.
Jean O'Connor, DrPH, director of health promotion and disease prevention for DPH, praised the Board of Regents' leadership on the issue.
"Tobacco-free environments are one of the best ways to help smokers quit and protect everyone from the dangers of tobacco," she said. "The Department of Public Health applauds their courage to protect the health of Georgia's best and brightest."
Of the 1.5 million Georgia adults who smoke, cigarette use is highest among college-aged adults, according the DPH data. In 2011, 25 percent of Georgians ages 18-24 reported using cigarettes. This age group also reports the highest use of smokeless tobacco in the state. Phillip Williams, PhD., Dean of the University of Georgia's College of Public Health and Vice Chair of DPH's Board of Public Health, said the Board of Regents' tobacco ban is a key tactic in decreasing those smoking rates.
"Tobacco use often peaks in between 18-22 years of age, so campus tobacco bans are a good way of encouraging young people, at such a crucial time, to lead healthier, tobacco-free lives," he said.
Health officials in the state hope that the new policy will encourage smokers of all ages to quit. DPH operates the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line (1-877-270-7867) for any Georgian age 13 and older who is ready to kick their tobacco habit. But Kenneth Ray, Program Manager for the Georgia Tobacco Use Prevention Program at DPH, said the policy is also designed to protect people from secondhand smoke, which kills about 1,400 adult non-smokers in Georgia every year.
"The adoption of the model tobacco-free campus policy will assure that students, staff and visitors are breathing clean air and are enjoying the educational experience," Ray said. About 1,200 colleges and universities across the U.S. have made their campuses tobacco-free with similar policies, including Emory University in Atlanta, which began enforcing its policy on campus in 2012.
"Emory has adapted well thanks to strong campus leadership and communication," said James Curran, M.D., Dean of Emory's Rollins School of Public Health and a Board of Public Health member.
To assist other schools that are putting a tobacco-free policy in place, DPH has published a tool kit to guide campus leaders through adopting, implementing and enforcing tobacco bans. By offering a step-by-step approach to putting the policy in place, Ray said schools can get the support they need for their tobacco bans to succeed. "Without clear guidelines for implementation and enforcement, protection from the dangers of exposure to secondhand smoke are likely not possible," he said.
Ray noted that tobacco-free policies on college campuses expand the protection afforded by the tobacco-free policies that are in place at 97 of Georgia's 181 public school districts.
"Youth from primary and secondary schools in Georgia that are tobacco-free can now attend Georgia state-funded universities that are tobacco-free and provide the same protection."