Smoking declines after implementation of campus ban
A campus survey reveals a reduction in tobacco use by faculty and staff members roughly a year after U-M banned smoking on the grounds of its three campuses.
It also shows a community that largely supports the smoke-free campus policy and that has noticed a difference in the level of smoking on campus. Results from two groups — faculty/staff and students — revealed some had taken advantage of the policy's implementation as a time to quit or cut back.
In the faculty/staff group, the number of people who self-reported on anonymous surveys that they smoked declined by one-third, from approximately 6 percent to 4 percent. Of those smokers who responded, 29 percent said they had reduced smoking since the policy was implemented in July 2011.
Sixteen percent of students reported that the policy influenced them to stop smoking or attempt to quit. But, one statistic that is somewhat troubling to leaders of the smoke-free campus effort is the percentage of students indicating they plan to quit, which dropped by four percent.
"These results are encouraging. However, we know that the remaining smokers are likely to be those staff, faculty and students who either are not ready to stop, or who have been unable to quit. They will need extra support to stop tobacco use," said Dr. Robert Winfield, U-M chief health officer and director of the University Health Service.
Separate surveys with somewhat different questions went to each group to remain consistent with previous research. The surveys were sent in November to 10,000 randomly selected members of each group, with 20 percent of faculty/staff and 24 percent of students responding.
Other faculty/staff results:
• 13 percent reported the policy has had some influence on their quitting/attempt to quit.
• 72 percent noticed some decrease of smoking on campus since implementation.
• 89 percent support the policy.
• 79 percent felt the policy implementation was communicated effectively.
Additional student feedback:
• 65 percent noticed some decrease of smoking on campus since implementation.
• 83 percent supported the existence of the smoke-free campus policy.
• 65 percent thought the policy implementation was communicated effectively.
In the area of communication, the biggest concern both groups reported was an uncertainly about the boundaries that mark where people can and cannot smoke. Many expressed that more signs are needed across campus. Those charged with implementation of the policy say the campus has a few trouble spots that have required extra attention.
"Smoking continues to be a concern in front of the undergraduate library and other 'hot spot' areas on Central Campus," said Lena Gray, smoke-free environment project coordinator for Michigan Healthy Community. "We are pursuing other approaches such as adding signage and sidewalk chalk messages, to remind everyone that those areas are smoke-free."
Leaders say the question of enforcement also came up in the surveys. U-M opted to have a policy that encourages voluntary compliance. But failing to follow the policy is not without consequences. Employees are subject to the same disciplinary process that is in place for other policy violations. Repeated student violations are addressed through the Office of Student Conflict Resolution.
Winfield said there has been some uncertainty as to how to respond when a smoker is not complying with the policy.
"A decision was made from the outset to make it everyone's job to encourage compliance," he said. "With repeated violation, student instances can be reported to the Office of Conflict resolution, while staff and faculty instances can be reported to the supervisor or building manager. In either case, the individual will initially be encouraged to comply with the policy and seek assistance at tobacco use cessation."
Tools are available for supervisors and others on the Smoke-Free University Initiative website.
A Smoke-free University Advisory Committee was convened by President Mary Sue Coleman when the policy was implemented, and it continues to meet regularly to address issues as they arise. Winfield said the survey data further helps guide the group's recommendations regarding the policy and communication.
Winfield said that he is pleased with the progress to date.
"Health is significantly improved in both the short term and long term by discontinuing the use of combustible tobacco products, and a substantial number of students, faculty and staff have taken advantage of the university wide support offered to stop smoking," he said.
When U-M began in 2009 to plan its move to a smoke-free campus there were 260 colleges and universities with similar policies; today there are 1,159.