Kicking tobacco off campus is part of a fast-growing national movement that has proven popular with students, staff and faculty — more than 1,100 American colleges and universities now have smoke-free or tobacco-free campuses, including 32 schools in Minnesota.
Unfortunately, the state’s largest institute of higher education, the University of Minnesota, is lagging behind. Frankly, it’s hard to understand why.
Adopting tobacco-free campus policies helps to create a healthier learning environment, promotes good health, reduces exposure to secondhand smoke and reduces cigarette litter on school properties. It also prepares students for jobs ahead — 60 percent of all businesses in the United States are now tobacco-free, including ours, Essentia Health and CentraCare Health Service.
There’s a strong public-health case to be made for tobacco-free campuses at the University of Minnesota. Nationally, smoking among young adults (18- to 24-year olds) has been slowly increasing since the 1990s.
Here in Minnesota, nearly 22 percent of college-age adults (18 to 24) are current smokers, the highest rate among all age categories. Research has proven that tobacco-free policies are effective in reducing youth smoking, and that once people reach age 25, they are much less likely to start using tobacco than young adults or adolescents are.
Not all schools in the University of Minnesota system are lagging behind. The regional campuses in Duluth and Crookston already have policies in place, joining other Minnesota schools like St. Cloud State University and Minnesota State University, Mankato. Nationwide, tobacco-free campuses include several Big Ten schools.
Tobacco continues to be the leading cause of death and disease across Minnesota. Annually, Minnesotans spend more than $3 billion a year in excess health care costs.
Essentia and CentraCare, along with other Minnesota businesses such as 3M, are doing their part to provide healthy environments for patients, visitors and employees by implementing tobacco-free grounds. We know such policies improve health, reduce health care costs and improve productivity.
It is time for the U to do its part in creating healthier environments for staff members, students and visitors while preparing a vibrant healthy workforce for future generations.
The University of Minnesota administration has the support needed to adopt a comprehensive policy. The Minnesota Student Association and Graduate and Professional Student Assembly recently voted to support a smoke-free campus in the Twin Cities.
The idea also has the strong backing of health professionals who work at the university’s teaching hospital and at the Boynton Health Center, which provides health services to students.
There simply isn’t any good reason why the U should not adopt a strong policy about tobacco use on its Twin Cities campuses, and there are many good reasons in favor of the move. This is the year the U should give tobacco the boot.
The university’s slogan is “Driven to Discover.” Let’s discover just how healthy our academic community can become with a tobacco-free campus.
Mike McAvoy is vice president of operations for Essentia Health, an integrated health service serving patients in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Idaho. Dr. David Tilstra is president of CentraCare Clinic, a multispecialty group of more than 220 physicians in five central Minnesota communities.