The UT System is now the first public university system in Texas to be completely tobacco-free, according to a press release published Tuesday.
All 14 UT institutions will be a part of the Eliminate Tobacco Use Initiative and will become tobacco-free by the end of this academic year. The goal is to provide a healthy environment for students, faculty, staff, visitors and patients on campus, according to the press release.
“If you look at the top causes of preventable deaths in the state of Texas, tobacco is by far number one,” said David Lakey, UT System chief medical officer. “When I transitioned into this new position, we looked at things we could do to improve the health of Texans, and addressing the number-one preventable cause of death is a great place to look at.”
Lakey is the co-founder of this initiative along with Ernest Hawk, vice president and head of UT MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences. They developed the idea when they partnered to host all of the UT institutions at the Eliminate Tobacco Use Summit last year to hear what each campus was doing about tobacco on their campuses and in their communities.
Hawk said the plan is composed of four components that will help universities address tobacco on campus. The first part involves making sure all campuses have the same policies, the second assists campuses in communicating the efforts for the prevention of tobacco usage, the third aims at improving cessation services provided to the universities and the fourth aims at providing support to the surrounding community in dealing with tobacco usage.
All UT institutions have policies prohibiting tobacco on campus already in place, but they varied in some form, according to the press release. The new initiative will establish consistent policies across all of the campuses.
“I think (the variation) has a lot to do with the history of UT system campuses and their degree of independence versus federation, and this is taking us in the direction of more group action for bigger, more impactful change,” Hawk said.
UT System Regent Kevin Eltife said he admires the plan because it shows the System is taking a serious step toward preventing tobacco use on campus.
“I think by instituting this policy, it does put a spotlight on tobacco use,” Eltife said. “I think the fact that they’re putting this policy in place and making it system-wide shows the harms of tobacco use.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 15 of every 100 U.S. adults ages 18 years or older smoked cigarettes in 2015. Lakey said people start to use tobacco at a younger age because they might want to experiment with new things and are more susceptible to be targeted by tobacco companies.
“The tobacco companies do focus on trying to get people hooked on cigarettes early because they know the 25 year old or 30 year old who hasn’t smoked once in their life isn’t going to start smoking then,” Lakey said. “You’ve got folks hooked on nicotine when they’re young in their teenage (years) or early 20s.”
The second Eliminate Tobacco Use Summit will be held April in Austin and is open to the public.