On Jan. 10, USC became a smoke-free campus. This policy shift resulted in a ban of all smokable tobacco products, electronic cigarettes and hookahs. The initiative marks a step forward to maintaining a healthier campus environment. This policy should be a first step toward ushering in more comprehensive public health measures.
USC is one of about 1,700 campuses to go smoke-free and one of only 110 to completely ban smokable tobacco-based products, e-cigarettes and hookahs. These numbers have grown significantly over the past years, as national public health initiatives sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and private organizations have brought awareness to the issue of student health on college campuses.
Ending smoking on campus is crucial to improving the health of students, faculty and staff. After all, the University of Vermont went smoke-free in August 2015, and the biggest change reported was the decrease in the number of freshman smokers. Underclassmen tend to seek to fit in with their older peers and can overestimate the number of smokers around them. Thus, some are inadvertently pressured into smoking, and the cycle continues with the next generation of freshmen. By ending smoking on campus, USC students — especially younger ones — will be less likely to start smoking. USC is also protecting all students as a whole from exposure to secondhand smoke, a Class A carcinogen, and reducing the fire risk in residence halls and buildings, as well as expenses related to smoke damage and cigarette litter.
Protecting students from the many negative health and environmental detriments of smoking is an important administrative move. Additionally, the school has provided a myriad of resources for students and faculty who want to quit or limit their smoking. The Engemann Student Health Center offers one-on-one consultations and smoking cessation support for students and faculty. These resources show that the University is working to consider and address the needs of smokers and non-smokers alike.
The policy is not perfect. It will be difficult to enforce and will most likely take a few years before the benefits become fully apparent. However, it is a necessary first step.
USC’s smoke-free policy is just the first of hopefully many steps to improve the campus living standard. To build off this progress in the next few years, USC should consider implementing the Partnership for a Healthier America, an organization with the goal of furthering healthy living and eating on campus to improve the well-being and health of the University’s staff, students and faculty.
A Healthier America is currently partnered with 44 universities, including the University of California, Los Angeles and Loyola Marymount University. The program uses nutrition research at partner schools as well as the organization’s own research to promote healthy living on college campuses by encouraging physical activity and mental health management. This partnership could help students become more aware of what they are eating and how to take care of their bodies, while also serving as a complement to the Mindful USC program, which promotes and offers resources for advancing mindfulness and mental health.
It is the responsibility of the University to pass public health measures in order to protect the well-being of its students, who are already burdened with academic and social stressors. Every student has the right to make their own individual choices regarding their health, but when behaviors negatively affect others in their community, the administration has not only the right but also the obligation to pass appropriate public health measures to protect the physical and mental health of the USC student body and faculty.