UT System does not collect data on efficacy of tobacco-free policy

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Photo Credit: Dan Martinez | Daily Texan Staff

While UT System institutions have had a 100% tobacco-free policy since 2017, the system does not currently collect data about tobacco use on campuses to see if the policy led to a decrease systemwide, said Dr. David Lakey, chief medical officer of the UT System. 

For a campus in the UT System to be considered 100% tobacco-free, they must have a policy that bans all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, said Lakey, who also functions as vice chancellor for health affairs.

Some campuses collect tobacco use data among themselves, Lakey said, and the implementation of the policy varies by institution.

“Different institutions have different cultures,” Lakey said. “We try not to be top-down on these type of things, but help support our institutions.”

Lakey said the UT System’s 14 academic and health institutions are working to determine the best method for enforcement. However, the campuses try to approach a violation with the assumption that the students do not know the policy exists, Lakey said.

“(The institutions) try to use peer pressure and education and referral to (cessation programs) versus a harder approach, and it seems to be successful,” Lakey said. 

UT-Austin has had a tobacco-free policy since 2012, which prohibits all tobacco product use, including electronic cigarettes, according to UT’s Tobacco-Free Campus website.

After several violations, a UT-Austin student will be referred to the Office of the Dean of Students, who may then recommend training and conect the student with smoking intervention resources, said Osalunosse Ovienmhada, Office of the Associate Vice President for Human Resources work life balance and wellness manager.

“Compliance with our policy is really grounded in education,” Ovienmhada said. 

Tobacco-Free Campus, a program dedicated to the removal of tobacco use on campus property, currently has one survey regarding tobacco use on campus, where students can report violations they see. The survey is emailed out four times a year, Ovienmhada said in an email. 

There were 359 reports of violations on campus in 2016, which decreased to 116 reports in 2018, according to data provided by Tobacco-Free Campus.

The survey is used to determine areas of improvement, Ovienmhada said. However, Ovienmhada said in an email she cannot speculate if this decrease is due to the policy. 

In 2017, University Health Services partnered with National College Health Assessment to do an overall report regarding health issues of students, including tobacco use. UHS has not done a survey since then, said Sherry Bell, consumer education and outreach coordinator for University Health Services. 

Bell said the data cannot be used to judge the success of the tobacco-free campus policy because there was only one set of data, and the use of electronic cigarettes has changed since 2017. In light of the recent deaths linked to vaping, Texas A&M announced a systemwide ban on vaping on Oct. 3rd. Ovienmhada said UT-Austin is conducting more research before they update their policy on vaping.

Ovienmhada said the policy is effective because there is more awareness among students. 

“You don’t necessarily find (an) individual smoking in the middle of Speedway,” Ovienmhada said. “Because across the board, there’s a general understanding that we do have a tobacco-free policy, and that it is prohibited.”

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify that UT System institutions have the tobacco-free policy, and not the UT Systems as a whole. The Texan regrets this error.