Eastern Kentucky University President Michael Benson announced Friday that a task force has been established to finalize a tobacco-free policy on campus, to take effect June 1, 2014, and to develop implementation strategies that assist the university community with the transition.
Since 2006, EKU has prohibited smoking in buildings and has restricted it to designated outdoor locations on campus. Benson said it is anticipated that the new tobacco-free policy will not only prohibit the use of tobacco products in and around buildings, but throughout campus, including all outdoor areas.
"We have an opportunity to improve the health of everyone who steps on our campus," Benson said in a video and a letter posted on the university's website. "Second-hand smoke exposure causes nearly 50,000 deaths each year among adults in the United States, and it is also linked to numerous health issues — including heart disease and lung cancer. Tobacco use is the leading cause of avoidable death in the United States, contributing to 443,000 deaths each year.
"These statistics," Benson said, "demonstrate the need to make improvements. We care about the health and well-being of all our students and employees, and we want to provide everyone with a chance to attend school and work in a safe and healthy environment. The truth is there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco products."
A presidential suggestion box that Benson announced at fall convocation has received numerous messages in support of making the campus cleaner and healthier.
"We have found it to be in the best interest of all those on campus to improve the health of our community by removing the exposure and use of tobacco products," Benson said.
He said the tobacco-free policy enjoys "the support of the great majority of our faculty, staff, students and governing board, and it is supported by the results of the April 2012 tobacco-free campus survey. It is our responsibility as educators, role models and concerned members of our campus community to do the greatest good."
The EKU president said that nearly 800 college campuses nationwide and many within Kentucky, which has the highest tobacco use rate in the nation, are completely tobacco-free, and that many of those institutions report higher success rates in quitting tobacco use, lower health care costs and increased enrollment.
As of 2012, Benson said, EKU employee insurance plans — the University is self-insured — covered nearly $900,000 for preventable health conditions associated with tobacco use. "If more employees stop using tobacco products, this cost could be greatly reduced.
"It is important to note," he said, "that a tobacco-free policy is also consistent with other campus policies that seek to reduce injury and illness by eliminating hazards and unsafe conditions on campus. We are not saying (EKU students and employees) must quit smoking, but we are saying you will not be able to use tobacco while you are on the EKU campus. If you are ready to quit, we want to support your efforts."
The University will provide resources, including counseling, a smoking-cessation program using the Cooper/Clayton method, and other support services as identified by the Tobacco-Free Task Force.
A website containing resource information, activities and other related information about the policy and task force will be operational soon, Benson said.