More than 1,000 colleges and universities nationwide have gone smoke or tobacco-free. Next week, UCLA joins the crowd.
UCLA will be the first UC campus to act, and smokers and tobacco-users on campus are preparing in a variety of ways. Some are already cutting back, others plan to make the April 22 start-date the day they quit or set new limits, while still others are strategizing how to work around the policy.
“I’m glad UCLA is doing this,” said Sunny Ji, a third-year student and a smoker. “I know I need to quit, and I think this will give me a boost. I’ve tried to quit before, but when I see my friends smoking, that’s one of the things that starts me up again.”
Update: UCLA is now a tobacco-free campus. Read the announcement here.
UCLA’s policy starts on Earth Day and aims to save lives by reducing tobacco-related deaths and diseases. Tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke are the leading causes of preventable death in the United States, and UC President Mark Yudof has called on all 10 UC campuses to go tobacco-free by banning the use of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes on university property, including at off-campus sites such as Jackie Robinson baseball stadium and UCLA-owned or wholly-leased housing or offices.
For those who want to quit, cut back or manage cravings while on campus, UCLA is offering to help in several ways, said UCLA nursing professor Linda Sarna, chair of the Tobacco-Free Steering Committee and an oncology nurse with international expertise in tobacco-control policies. Research has shown that more people succeed in quitting in tobacco-free environments, Sarna noted.
“Because I am a nurse, I am all about alleviating suffering – the suffering that tobacco-related diseases cause, but also the discomfort of quitting tobacco,” Sarna said. “Let no one doubt, this policy is about saving lives, and UCLA is providing education and resources to help people who want to quit.”
With a signature and a UCLA ID, campus tobacco users can pick up free nicotine-replacement therapy starter-kits (NRTs) containing a two-week supply of nicotine patches. Students can claim theirs at the Ashe Student Health Center. Staff and faculty can drop in to pick up kits at the Occupational Health Facility in office 67-120 in the Center for Health Sciences (sixth floor, seventh corridor, room 120).
The Ashe center will also provide students with free counseling and tobacco-cessation support; no appointment is needed. UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services is also offering counseling and free wellness workshops for students. The Staff and Faculty Counseling Center will offer a biofeedback program to help employees more consciously regulate stress, and also provide referrals for smoking cessation programs. Staff, faculty and students should check their health care programs to find out how to get prescriptions that help break the cycle of addiction. They are also encouraged to call 1-800-NO-BUTTS, California's free helpline for tobacco users who want to quit.
A student smoking outside Powell Library the week before the tobacco-free policy kicks in.
“Tobacco use isn’t a ‘bad habit;’ it’s an addiction, and the helpline recognizes that,” said associate professor of medicine Michael Ong, co-chair of the steering committee at UCLA. “Using the California’s Smokers Helpline has been proven to double the chances of quitting successfully. Callers get free, ongoing, one-on-one counseling over the phone, and can get services in six different languages. They also have services for users of chewing tobacco.”
Cessation programs are also available from the UCLA Health System, such as its $100 Freedom From Smoking program. More details are available from the Tobacco-Free Steering Committee at www.tobaccofree.ucla.edu, and Bruins can also get more information and free nicotine patches at an event celebrating the launch of the new policy from 11-1 p.m. in Bruin Plaza on Monday.
“Only about 6 percent of people succeed by quitting without using any help,” said Timothy Fong, an associate professor of psychiatry who led the UCLA Health System's smoke-free transition team. “With nicotine patches and gum, or with group support, counseling or therapy, the success rate doubles. When counseling and nicotine replacements are used together, your chances of quitting are even stronger. It’s not uncommon for people to make five or six quit attempts before it sticks.”
That’s the case for Steve Wang, a business process manager for UCLA Transportation and Events, who has quit a few times over his 10 years as a smoker. The challenge has always been finding “a reason to quit permanently,” he said, but he thinks his next try could last.
“My wife and I know we have to quit someday if we want to start a family, so now it’s just about picking a date to stop,” Wang said. “With the tobacco-free policy, the campus gave me a date, so that’s it. And this time, the co-workers I normally smoke with won’t be smoking around me, so that will make it easier to quit.”
Student Michael Berlin acknowledged that he wants to quit – just not yet.
“I should quit — I know smoking’s bad for me,” he said. “I’m a little annoyed to have a date chosen for me, though, especially before finals. I might try the nicotine patches they’re giving out, since I’d like to quit this summer.”
Still, the policy is a positive change, he added.
“It will definitely help, because I’ll smoke less during the hours I’m on campus,” Berlin said. “And I think it means fewer people will start smoking, because a lot of people pick up the habit in college.”
Studies indicate that 70 percent of smokers want to quit, Sarna said, and members of the steering committee hope that tobacco-users will see April 22 as a good time to take the leap. No one has to quit if they don’t want to, but they won’t be able to use tobacco on campus, Sarna explained, and they will need to manage their nicotine-withdrawal symptoms on campus.
That’s enough to convince Ji, the third-year student who said he wants to quit and thinks the new policy will help him do that.
“I strongly feel it’s not good to smoke, and, growing up, I always said I never would, but here I am,” he said while smoking outside Powell Library. “When the tobacco-free policy kicks in, I’ll probably try not to smoke. It’s not worth going off campus.”
Some tobacco-users are hesitant to try nicotine patches or gum, worried they’ll just exchange one addiction for another, and are wary of the side effects of pharmaceuticals that blunt cravings, even though these are proven to increase the odds of quitting, Sarna said.
“There can be side effects, which vary from person to person,” Sarna said. “But quit aids can help you, while the side effects of tobacco use will poison you.”