Up until April, Steve Wang always thought of himself as a smoker. The business manager for UCLA Transportation and Events had tried to quit a few times over the past decade, but he was back up to five cigarettes a day when UCLA’s tobacco-free policy kicked in earlier this year.
That was the day Wang decided to try again. And this time, he’s down to smoking less than once a week, and often only once or twice a month.
Thanks to the university’s new rule, he thinks it will stick this time. The temptation to light up daily has been easier to resist because his coworkers can’t smoke around him anymore, Wang said.
“They have to walk a quarter-mile or more to smoke, and I didn’t want to take that much time out of work or my lunch hour just to have a cigarette,” he said. “The temptation would have been much higher if it still only took a few minutes to grab a smoke.”
As part of UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative, the university enacted its tobacco-free policy six months ago on April 22, making it the first UC campus to do so and one of more than 1,000 smoke-free colleges and universities nationwide. A survey of cigarette butts on campus indicates the policy is working: Students at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability conducted the study when UCLA’s policy took effect and found that the number of butts littering sample sites on campus decreased from an average of 600 to 160.
Last week on Oct. 30, UCLA’s Tobacco-Free Task Force sent a letter to deans and department chairs, administrators and supervisors to remind them of the policy and let them know they would be contacted if their areas contained any known smoking “hot spots.” The task force’s focus is on raising awareness and educating smokers about resources they can use to quit or cut back while on campus. Task force members hope the letter will help increase pressure on the campus’s remaining smokers to quit. Since the policy took effect, task force members have been handing out business-card-sized reminders of the policy as well as on- and off-campus resources to help tobacco users quit, and the group wants to encourage more campus stakeholders to do the same.
“The goal is to make sure tobacco users are aware of the policy, aware that we’re concerned about their health and aware of all the resources at their disposal,” said Linda Sarna, chair of the task force and a UCLA nursing professor with expertise in smoking cessation. “They need to accept that this is a policy they need to follow, and violating it is not a victimless crime. Second-hand smoke at UCLA has decreased, but it continues to affect non-smokers, in some cases, wafting into air vents and polluting offices.”
In January, all 10 UC campuses will go tobacco-free as part of former UC President Mark Yudof’s call to ban the use of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes on university property. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death nationwide. And while UCLA’s policy has made an impact, it will take time to convince all smokers to cease tobacco use on campus, said associate professor of medicine Michael Ong, co-chair of the task force.
“We want people who are disturbed by the remaining smoking to know that we continue to work on new ways to address the problem,” Ong said. “But smoking is a serious addiction, and while many smokers want to quit, we recognize making such changes do take time. We’re following the best practices tested out by other campuses, and for a university of 74,000 people, we’re doing very well — even better than expected.”
The task force has emphasized spreading the word about resources like 1-800-NO-BUTTS, California's free helpline for tobacco users who want to quit. Campus tobacco users can pick up free nicotine-replacement therapy starter-kits containing a two-week supply of nicotine patches. Students can claim theirs at the Ashe Student Health Center. Staff and faculty can get kits from the Occupational Health Facility, room 67-120 in the Center for Health Sciences.
The Ashe center also provides students with free counseling and tobacco-cessation support, and UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services is also offering counseling and free wellness workshops for students. The Staff and Faculty Counseling Center has a biofeedback program to help employees more consciously regulate stress, and also provides 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.
Elloi Delos Reyes, an administrative specialist in the Department of General Internal Medicine, quit smoking a year and a half ago, thanks to a smoke-free policy at the health science campus that took effect November 2011.
“At my worst I was up to a pack a day,” said Delos Reyes, who, at the time, worked at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. “My daughter told me, ‘Mommy, you have to stop or you’re going to die,’ and I really wanted to quit for her.”
When the hospital went smoke-free, taking a cigarette break began to eat up too much time, providing another incentive to quit, she said. She was always planning to quit “tomorrow,” but the inconvenience factor made her decide it was time.
“I couldn’t grab coffee, or take a walk, or go buy lunch if I smoked, because it took my whole break to get off campus,” Delos Reyes said. “But it was a hard habit to break. So now whenever I get the urge, I need to get away from my desk. At 9 in the morning, it was time to smoke — so now I start walking. At 2:30, it was time for a cigarette — so I go downstairs and have a snack instead.”
In addition, she’s exercising more and has shaved 20 minutes off her half-marathon race time. She even provides administrative support and works for the Tobacco-Free Task Force, which is in her department.
“People I know think it’s really funny that I work for the task force now,” Delos Reyes said. “And at first I hated the policy. But this policy is what made it possible for me to quit.”