The University of Alaska Anchorage today announced that it has signed on to the Fresh Air Campus Challenge at the Silver Campus level (campuses currently working on a smoke or tobacco-free initiative). The Challenge is a first-of-its-kind effort to encourage all college campuses in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington to adopt a 100 percent smoke or tobacco-free policy by 2016. By signing on to the Challenge, UAA is committing to take meaningful steps toward policy change this year.
“The University of Alaska Anchorage is proud to join the Fresh Air Campus Challenge,” said Dr. Gabriel Garcia, assistant professor of Public Health at UAA. Garcia is part of the UAA Smoke-Free Task Force, a group of students, faculty and staff advocating for a 100 percent smoke or tobacco-free campus. “Our goal is to provide the healthiest possible learning and working environment for our students, faculty, staff and visitors. As the number one cause of preventable death in the nation, we believe that limiting the harmful effects of tobacco use is one of the best ways we can support a healthier campus community.”
The Challenge brings together local, state and federal tobacco control programs in a unique partnership with college campuses to begin the process of policy adoption. Currently, UAA does not have a comprehensive smoke-free policy. While smoking is not allowed inside campus buildings, smokers are allowed to smoke in designated smoking areas, which are supposed to be 20 feet from the building entryways. The UAA Smoke-Free Task Force has been working toward policy change for more than a year now. The task force plans to gather information campus-wide for implementing either a smoke or tobacco-free campus. The Task Force hopes that with regional resources from the Challenge and a combined effort from students, faculty, staff and local organizations, UAA will be 100 percent smoke or tobacco-free by 2015.
Initiation of smoking is at high during the college years—99 percent of all regular smokers start by the time they are 26 years old. Smoke-free policies have been shown to effectively reduce tobacco use by helping prevent initiation and making it easier for people who smoke to quit.
“University of Alaska Anchorage Smoke-Free Task Force has shown incredible leadership in promoting a smoke-free campus,” said Dr. Patrick O’Carroll, regional health administrator for Health and Human Services Region X and assistant surgeon general. “Colleges have a unique opportunity and responsibility to provide a safe community and a foundation for healthful living. These policies are one of the best ways to ensure college campuses deliver on that promise.”
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is responsible for an estimated 49,400 lung cancer and heart disease deaths among non-smoking adults in the U.S. each year.
Today’s announcement marks the third campus in Alaska and the first among University of Alaska campuses to sign on to the Challenge. More than 51 college campuses throughout the Pacific Northwest have already gone smoke or tobacco-free. Nationally, nearly 17 percent of all higher-education institutions have a smoke or tobacco-free policy.
“It is time we say yes to a smoke-free UAA. Everyone on campus deserves the right to breathe clean air,” said Dr. Garcia.
The Fresh Air Campus Challenge is supported by a broad coalition of local, state and national tobacco prevention and control partners, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, Region X; American College Health Association; American Lung Association; American Cancer Society; American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation; American Heart Association; American Cancer Society; and the state tobacco prevention and control programs of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
For more information about and/or to join the UAA Smoke-Free Task Force, contact Gabriel Garcia, assistant professor of Public Health, at (907) 786-6532 or email@example.com.