by Jacob Solis
On Aug. 1, the University of Nevada, Reno officially went tobacco free, joining 1,200 other colleges and universities around the country according to the UNR website. Small white signs materialized across campus that implore students to join the tobacco free movement, but how did UNR get to be tobacco-free in the first place?
For starters, UNR is already mostly tobacco-free. According to the same university splash page that touts the number of other smoke-free colleges, only 15 percent of UNR’s student body smokes. This number is slightly below the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s reported national average of 17.8 percent.
Even so, many students across campus began asking why Nevada wasn’t tobacco-free when so many other schools were.
Thus, in 2013, the Student Health Center began gathering the blessings of every major group on campus to make it happen. With ASUN, the Graduate Student Association, the Faculty Senate and the President’s Office behind them, the Health Center began researching how other universities went about getting rid of tobacco.
Enid Jennings, program coordinator and health educator for the Student Health Center, noted that for the better part of 2014 and early 2015, the Student Health Center focused on marketing and education. Students, parents and employee received a barrage of information on the new program, but Jennings stressed that the goal was never to force people to stop smoking.
“We’re not telling [people] to quit, but if they do decide to quit, we want to be there,” Jennings said. “We can’t punish people, but we can ask them nicely.”
To add some rigor and legitimacy to the policy, the University pushed the creation of Senate Bill 339 in the beginning of 2015. The bill would have allowed any school under the Nevada System of Higher Education to enact tight restrictions on the use of tobacco, a power that had already been granted to Nevada’s K-12 school districts.
The bill passed through the Senate with ease, but hit a monumental snag once it made it to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
“Specifically, I was asked by Assemblyman Trowbridge, [R-Las Vegas], something along the lines of ‘how much extra are you willing to pay to have your tobacco-free campus,’” said ASUN President Caden Fabbi in an email to The Nevada Sagebrush. Fabbi, who was speaker of the senate at the time, testified before the Assembly Judiciary Committee in favor of SB 339. Once there though, he faced a hostile committee who, according to him, threatened to “slash funds from cigarette sales that [are] used to fund higher education in the state.”
The logic for the committee revolved around hypocrisy. Some members thought that because some of the taxes garnered from tobacco sales go to fund NSHE, it would be wrong for a university to ban tobacco.
“To me, it was a silly argument,” Fabbi said. “K-12 schools in Nevada ban tobacco as well and are also funded partially by [so-called] ‘sin taxes.’”
Silly or not, the argument killed the bill and UNR’s tobacco-free plan was left without the blessing of the state. But for the Student Health Center, the failure of SB 339 changed little.
Jennings noted that the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, which was passed by Nevada voters in 2006 and prohibits smoking in most indoor spaces, sets a precedent for what institutions are allowed to do with their own space. Moreover, she reasserted that the goal was never to ban tobacco outright and that most institutions don’t enforce bans either.
“We always intended for this to be education-based … [and] 90 percent of campuses that have tobacco-free policies are based in education and awareness,” Jennings said.
Thus far, the program has been a success, according to Jennings. Over a hundred students have used the Health Center’s resources to quit their tobacco use since education efforts began a year ago. In terms of services, the University’s “Live Well” Web page provides six links that lead to different resources to help quit.
Jacob Solis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.