UT tobacco ban encourages healthier habits among users, cancer research funding

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After years of heated debate over the use of tobacco on campus, UT announced Wednesday it will prohibit the use of tobacco products on all University property effective this month.

The UT Board of Regents approved the new tobacco policy on Monday, making UT the fourth institution under the UT System to implement a ban.

University spokeswoman Adrienne Howarth-Moore said people will be able to use tobacco in the 15 temporary designated areas on campus during the first year of implementation but will be required to adhere to the policy by Feb. 28, 2013. The policy prohibits the use of tobacco products on University-owned sidewalks, parking areas, walkways, attached parking structures and buildings. Tobacco will only be allowed at the temporary designated tobacco areas, and for educational or clinical purposes, fine arts productions, sponsored research and off-campus graduate housing facilities.

The University’s previous policy only prohibited smoking within buildings and required people to smoke 20 feet away building entrances.

Howarth-Moore said sidewalks adjacent to UT property, such as the sidewalks on Guadalupe Street, will not be included in the ban. The ban will also exclude sidewalks and property on Guadalupe Street, Dean Keeton Street, Red River Street and Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard.

She said the University will be removing ashtrays surrounding campus buildings in the next couple of months, launching an educational campaign and putting up signs to inform the UT community about the new policy. She said at this time there are no plans to implement a financial penalty if people violate the ban and repeat violations will be directed to the appropriate student, faculty and staff liaisons.

Howarth-Moore said the UT administration understands the challenges this new policy places on people who are current tobacco users, but hopes people will see this change as an opportunity to quit and take advantage of tobacco cessation resources on campus.

“If people choose not to take advantage of the tobacco resources we are providing, we hope that this gives them time to adjust their work schedule and start to think about how they will implement this policy in their work or school day,” Howarth-Moore said. “This is the right direction for the University.”

UT first announced plans on Feb. 9 to possibly change its tobacco policy after the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas announced new rules requiring all institutions receiving cancer research funds to become tobacco-free by Aug. 31. If the University did not comply with the new rules, it would not be eligible to receive future funding from the institute. The institute provides approximately $31 million for more than 20 professors working on cancer research. UT plans to apply for $88 million later this year.

In a February campus-wide email, University officials stated they planned to develop a policy by March 1 to meet the deadlines stated by Cancer Research and Prevention Institute of Texas. Howarth-Moore said there was a misunderstanding on the deadline to be in compliance with the new policy.

Kristen Doyle, Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas lawyer and a cancer survivor, said March 1 was the adoption date of the new rule and grantees have until Aug. 31 to develop a new policy.

Doyle said although she has not seen the policy, it seems like UT has gone above and beyond banning tobacco in buildings where cancer research takes place, the minimum requirement the institute called for.

Doyle said she thinks it is great UT has adopted a tobacco-free policy on campus.

“Preventing people from taking up both smoking and tobacco use, especially now when they’re in college, will help them for the rest of their lives,” Doyle said. “As a cancer survivor, I hope someone else won’t have to have that awful moment and hear, ‘Oh, you’ve got cancer.’”

Howarth-Moore said although the University had previously considered only banning tobacco use in buildings and areas where cancer research took place, they decided against it. Many professors and graduate students conducting research will often have their lab in one building but may go to places such as the library in the Main Building to analyze their research, Howarth-Moore said, and that makes the building a cancer research facility.

Howarth-Moore said new research facilities are added and change every semester and would make a tobacco ban only encompassing cancer research buildings difficult and confusing to implement.

Matthew Haviland, president of the UT Texas Public Health Organization, said he thinks the tobacco ban will contribute to the improving the health of students and potentially decreasing insurance costs.

The organization conducted a survey last semester and found that out of 1,551 respondents, 77 percent indicated they wanted a stronger tobacco policy at UT. Among the people who identified as smokers who took the survey, about one-third said they wanted stricter limits on tobacco use.

Haviland said he sat on a committee with administrators to discuss the possible implementation of a tobacco ban and expected the announcement.

He said he hopes this encourages the city of Austin and schools across the U.S. to consider banning tobacco.

Printed on Thursday, April 12, 2012 as: UT approves tobacco ban across campus