Daily 49er

‘Breathe’ campaign: A catalyst for tobacco-free transformation

CSULB will follow more than 400 American colleges and universities that have already banned all forms of tobacco – including e-cigarettes – from their campuses.

Seth Perlstein, Staff Writer

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The unmistakable smell of e-cigarette vapor wafted from around the corner of the Vivian Engineering Center at California State University, Long Beach. The invisible, nanoparticle- and carcinogen-infused exhalation flowed freely down the narrow corridor, past the glass-encased Mars rover exhibit, and into the semi-enclosed quad along Deukmejian Way.

At the inception point of the gaseous trail sat Hernan Lozada, a CSULB civil engineering major, who prepared his digital nicotine-delivery device for another hit. But Lozada, and other 49ers who smoke, won’t be able to indulge his habit on campus for much longer. This fall, The Beach will transform itself into a tobacco-free university during a three-year process.

“I don’t like it, because it takes away my smoking,” Lozada said disapprovingly. “I am addicted.”        

More than 400 American colleges and universities have already banned all forms of tobacco – including e-cigarettes – from their campuses, according to the American Lung Association.

California State University, Fullerton became the first smoke-free CSU in 2013. Other CSUs such as California State University, Northridge, San Diego State University and Sonoma State University soon followed suit.

CSULB will join its smoke-free Southern California brethren when it rolls out its new tobacco policy in August, which will begin with the removal of all ashtrays and designated smoking areas from campus. But the new program will have a three-year grace period that will allow smokers to continue their on-campus nicotine intake unpunished through 2018.

“[Jane Conoley, CSULB president] really wanted it to be a positive experience,” said Scott Apel, CSULB associate vice president of human resources. “She didn’t want to punish smokers. She didn’t want to stigmatize people. She wanted us to help people with education and cessation efforts.”

CSULB students voted to ban smoking – which causes more annual deaths than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor-vehicle injuries and firearm-related incidents combined, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention – from its campus in 2013.

“We started to try to work on that specific issue,” Apel said. “That kind of blossomed into Conoley realizing what was going on and really wanting to make a healthier change on the campus.”

The university formed a task force that became the foundation of the Breathe campaign, which will lead the university’s upcoming smoking cessation and education efforts during its transition to a smoke-free campus.

“It was gigantic,” said Apel, who is also a member of the Breathe campaign task force. “It had representation from all over, including students.”

CSULB liberal studies major Celena Lazalde grew up in a family of smokers and lost her grandfather, who was a heavy smoker, to lung cancer. Her father and sister still smoke despite the family’s loss, she said.

“I’ve been surrounded by a lot of smoking,” Lazalde said. “I don’t want to smell the cigarettes. It’s something I just don’t like. It’s not comfortable for me to smell.”

Apel compared the school’s efforts to end on-campus smoking to the state’s efforts to end smoking in bars and restaurants in the 1990s. He said people thought the 1995 smoking ban would ruin businesses. However, the ban succeeded and businesses stayed open because not smoking in those places became the social norm, he said.

“The societal pressure was so great that people don’t even think about smoking in a bar or a restaurant anymore,” Apel said. “I think they feel that is what will happen on-campus, as well.”

In the smoking area in front of the University Library, Charlotte Rasmussen and Sofie Nielsen – who are both communications majors and Danish exchange students – puffed on burning paper-wrapped tobacco sticks during their lunch break.

Nielsen said her university in Denmark also had smoking areas, but that people would end up smoking in doorways because the school was small. That meant people entering and exiting the building had to walk through second-hand smoke, which kills more than 30,000 non-smoking Americans per year, according to the CDC.

CSULB’s current tobacco policy limits smoking to 20 feet outside of building entrances, windows and air intakes; the walkway from the Main Library to the escalator; and posted no-smoking areas.

“I think it’s awesome,” Nielsen said about CSULB’s smoke-friendly spots. “I think it makes sense to limit it to smoking areas.”

The women exhaled the byproduct of their scorched-tobacco intake as scores of students exited the library and passed by the smoking area.

“I think it’s nice to know that if I stand here, I don’t have to worry about other people around me,” Rasmussen said.

CSULB’s new smoking policy would push Nielsen, Rasmussen and other students and staff who smoke on-campus to smoke in groups on the fringes of campus, the exchange students said. This could have unforeseen repercussions, Rasmussen said.

“The thing that would worry me, in a 15-minute break, it’s limited to how far you can go,” she said. “My high school did that, and the sidewalk in front of the school was covered in cigarettes.”

For CSULB’s new policy to succeed, Apel said there’s going to need to be a cultural change at The Beach.

“We’ve done a lot of research on-campus about people’s feelings,” he said. “It’s clear that there’s a lot of support for making the campus smoke- and tobacco-free.”

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