Program Looks to Reduce Smoking Among Students
The Berkeley City Council approved a resolution Tuesday night that aims to curb smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke among young adultsâ€”one of the nation's fastest-growing groups of smokers.
A $100,500 grant from the Alameda County Public Health Department, handed out over a three-year period, will establish a tobacco prevention agency that will work closely with University Health Services and student organizations on campus to discourage smoking among college students.
The College Tobacco Prevention Program, outlined by the city's public health department, will lead the effort to reduce smoking among the 18 to 24 age group.
Scott O'Brion, a 23-year-old Berkeley resident who smokes, said the program gives smokers a choice, but he cautioned that it should not be imposed upon them.
"I don't think it should be forced on people to quit smoking," he said, "But it is great to have services available that increase support for those who want to quit."
The program focuses on working with campus advocacy groups such as ASUC's "Butt Out!" program, which provides awareness about the health risks associated with smoking, said Marcia Brown-Machen, director of the tobacco prevention program.
Officials also plan to implement assessment procedures at the Tang Center to help students quit smoking. Beginning Thursday, the center will offer an acupuncture therapy class designed to reduce cravings to smoke.
This clinical support, guided by the U.S. Public Health Service, has an "enormous impact" in helping students quit smoking, Brown-Machen said.
Councilmember Dona Spring said she is hopeful that joint efforts between the city and the university will help discourage smoking among high school and college students, especially.
"We will team up and use the resources of the UC Berkeley health department to help students kick the habit," she said.
In an effort to limit the health risks of secondhand smoke on campus, the prevention program is also building support to change the distance from campus buildings at which smoking is allowed.
"We hope to bring awareness to the university to increase the reasonable distance of secondhand smoke," said Brown-Machen, who is proposing that smoking areas be at least 15 feet away from facilities.
The "doorway policy," which creates smoke-free environments, has been implemented at three other Bay Area campuses.
Sandra Meucci, director of the College Tobacco Mentors Program based in Berkeley, said these policies have made considerable headway in protecting nonsmokers.
But some students are skeptical that a "doorway policy" will have a significant impact in deterring smoking or reducing the health risks of secondhand smoke.
"It's not a huge catastrophe," said O'Brion. "What's the difference between smoking five feet away from the building or 15 feet?"
Hoping to strike back at tobacco corporations that target young adults, the prevention program and the World Health Organization plan to collect student testimonies and petitions and use them to persuade lawmakers to enact clean-air policies and bans on ads for cigarettes.
The student testimony will also be used to persuade tobacco companies worldwide to stop targeting young adults, Brown-Machen said.