Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Healthy Dose 011: Let’s keep the air clean, please.

This piece appears in the UMass Boston publication, the Mass Media.

I get it, smoking looks cool. And I understand that smoking cigarettes can be a very serious addiction for many people who get hooked. But there are real health dangers involved with smoking that have been well-documented over the last six decades or so.

In January 2016, the UMass Boston campus became smoke-free—this move was made to join the hundreds of campuses in the country that have shifted to a smoke-free campus. Campuses have made this shift over the last few years because they are recognizing the immense health risks of cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke.

A student survey conducted in the fall by the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) revealed many interesting perceptions and behaviors regarding the campus tobacco ban. Over 700 students responded to the survey, 95% of whom responding being aware of the smoking ban on campus.

So awareness isn’t the issue.

Yet, amid the myriad of No Smoking signs and smoking ban notices spread across campus, there seems to be some confusion and/or apathy toward the ban. 96% of students surveyed reported either sometimes, frequently, or almost always seeing someone smoking on campus. That’s a problem. However, 83% of those surveyed said they do not personally smoke on campus, while 11% said that they do smoke on campus.

So perhaps there is a lot of apathy about this ban—I understand that. I’m not a fan of people telling me what to do with my body, or judging me for the choices I make, either. However, that apathy needs to end when decisions we make impact the lives of those around us. We are not insular human beings when on this campus—we are a community that should feel safe and comfortable to breathe clean while here.

Especially with the weather (hopefully) turning into Spring soon, more and more folks will be outside, which is all the more reason to discuss this issue. The USG survey also found that numerous students independently reported having asthma attacks as a result to smoking on campus, which contributes to the 12% of students who reported that smoking significantly impacts in their life.

Two interested correlations found in the USG survey were the 11% of students stated they smoke on campus, while coincidentally, 11% also stated they have no desire to quit smoking. Then there is the 5% of those surveyed who said they smoke but not on campus, when coincidentally, 5% of those surveyed would like to quit smoking. The connections here may have some overlap in reporting, but those numbers are truly too important to excuse.

The campus administration is very much aware of high-traffic smoking areas on campus, and this issue is being taken very seriously, for the sake of those of us who do not like breathing in any sort of smoke. Yes, this ban also vaping and e-cigarettes—of which, I’m annoyingly aware are not tobacco, but still include chemicals that people who have made the choice not to smoke would also not like going into their lungs.

I’m very comfortable asking people to stop smoking or vaping on campus, and maybe I’ve asked you to do so—perhaps in a fun, upbeat tone that bothered you, or in a more forceful I’m-not-in-the-mood-for-cigarette-smoke-in-my-face kind of tone. And if you complied in any of these moments, thank you. Trust me, there is plenty of resistance. However, I’m not afraid to ask someone to put out their cigarette on campus, and I encourage other bystanders who wish to breathe clean air to kindly ask your fellow community members to cognizant of the clean air and tobacco ban policy.

With the recent decriminalization of marijuana in Massachusetts, the campus has maintained that use of the substance is still prohibited from campus grounds.

As someone who last a father to lung cancer in 2015, I have very much dealt with the harsh reality of the detrimental impacts that smoking has on the human body. Watching my dad die a very slow and painful death was very difficult and I never want any of you to ever have to experience what he went through in his finals years of life.

We, over at University Health Services, offer cessation therapy for quitting smoking, as well as nicotine gum for those who wish to quit. We want to see all of our community members thrive on our campus, and this means we all need to be able to cleanly breathe the air that surrounds us.

So, let’s keep the air clean, please—for yourself, for your peers, and for our future.