When the smoke clears

By Kaley Fowler

Groups of City Colleges of Chicago students, faculty and staff have joined with the City Colleges’ Board of Trustees to adopt a tobacco-free policy that will impact more than 120,000 students in the Chicago area.

The rule prohibits students from using or possessing tobacco products on City Colleges property.

The new policy is the first step of the City Colleges’ overall “Healthy Campus” initiative, which promotes green strategies, healthy food choices, zero tolerance for bullying and violence and a tobacco-free lifestyle.

The City Colleges’ District-wide Student Government Association, a mass congregation of each school’s student governments, voted unanimously in favor of tobacco-free campuses on Jan. 12.

“Wellness is at the forefront of our reinvention initiative, and we are committed to making our campuses healthy places to work and learn,” said Nikole Muzzy, media relations officer for City Colleges of Chicago.

The tobacco-free policy will go into effect March 1 at all seven City Colleges–Harold Washington, Harry S. Truman, Kennedy-King, Malcom X, Olive-Harvey, Richard J. Daley and Wilbur Wright. The colleges’ seven satellite locations and the district office at 226 W. Jackson Blvd. will also be tobacco-free.

“Passing the tobacco-free campus policy is an important first step in encouraging healthy choices for students and promoting a healthy and clean environment on campus,” said Georgiana Moise, Wilbur Wright College’s communications officer. “The best thing is that City Colleges will also be offering resources to help people quit smoking or stop using other tobacco products.”

The colleges will offer “Courage to Quit” smoking cessation classes and other resources through its wellness centers. Before the plan, the colleges conducted a tobacco survey of students, faculty and staff, according to Muzzy. She said more than half of the participating smokers said on-campus smoking cessation programs would help them quit using tobacco products.

The results also showed that 85 percent of the individuals surveyed believe that a tobacco-free policy would improve the overall health of students, faculty and staff.

“While I never want smokers to feel like they are the enemy, I hope smokers do realize that clean air acts benefit them as well as people that don’t use tobacco products,” said Carol Southard, a tobacco treatment specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “I hope smokers look at this as an opportunity [to quit] and not as a punishment.”

The City Colleges is the largest higher education institution in Chicago to embrace a tobacco-free campus policy.

“It’s going to help [discourage smoking], especially when there are so many campuses that are adjacent to other campuses [in Chicago],” said Matt Maloney, director of health policy for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. “When an institution does something like this, we hope that there will be an increase in people that want to quit smoking.”

The tobacco-free policy ties into the city’s “Healthy Chicago” initiative, a public health agenda seeking to make Chicago “the healthiest city in the nation,” according to Efrat Stein, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health.

“This change is one of the ways to implement ‘Healthy Chicago’ by shifting us from one-time programmatic interventions to sustainable systems, policy and environmental changes,” Stein said.

This sentiment is echoed by the American Cancer Society.

“The American Cancer Society believes that all Illinoisans deserve the right to breathe clean air, free of the cancer-causing poisons known to exist in secondhand smoke,” said Melissa Leeb, public relations director for the Illinois branch of the American Cancer Society, in a written statement.

In addition to promoting “Healthy Chicago,” the absence of smokers at City Colleges campuses breaks common misconceptions about smoking, according to Leonard Jason, clinical psychology professor at DePaul University.

“If people are [seen] smoking, it leads to an excessive perception that higher levels of people are smoking,” Jason said. “If we want to break that misconception that so many people smoke, it’s critically important for us to be able to make changes in these types of policies.”