Northeast Community College to Institute Tobacco-Free Policy

by jamesc  3/11/2014 1:43:42 PM --  NORFOLK – In recent years, the number of higher education institutions adopting policies which prohibit smoking or tobacco use anywhere on their property has grown dramatically. Effective August 1, 2014, Northeast Community College will modify is smoke-free policy to a tobacco-free policy.


“Becoming a tobacco-free college is more than posting signs. In this learning environment, you will need to help people learn to conduct themselves in ways that will help them be successful,” said Ty Patterson, executive director for the National Center for Tobacco Policy, during a visit Monday to the Northeast campus in Norfolk. “We don’t want people to be confused about whether or not they have to go along with a policy.”

Patterson, who was in Norfolk to meet with Northeast faculty and staff, College partners and community members, said policies restricting smoking inside of buildings have been in effect for decades. Policies restricting smoking in open spaces began appearing when smokers began to congregate at building entrances and exits. He said such policies usually prohibited smoking within a specified distance from entrances and exits, or under building overhangs. Northeast’s current smoke-free-policy allows smoking at a minimum of ten-feet away from the exterior of a building.

By 2007, approximately 300 higher education institutions reported they had smoke-free or tobacco-free campus policies in place. As of April, 2013, The Association of Non-Smoker’s Rights reported over 1,100 colleges and universities had adopted such policies.

Patterson said the terms tobacco-free and smoke-free are often confused. “Here, tobacco-free means no use of tobacco or any product that stimulates tobacco; smoke-free means no smoking of tobacco or use of any product that stimulates smoking. The exceptions we advocate are the use of FDA (Federal Drug Administration) approved cessation devices and the supervised use of tobacco in authorized religious ceremonies.”

Patterson said the question most often associated with tobacco-free policies is “How do you enforce such a policy?” He said, “As institutions get serious about implementing such policies, critical thinking must be employed to decide the best policy and how to make it work. Education about the policy is crucial. Moving quickly leads to non-compliance which saps the will to support the policy.”

Patterson said there are significant reasons why anyone would object to this sort of policy if they had not given much thought to it. ”The question is we really don’t know how many people have thought about it. Critical thinking requires all of us to suspend our own judgments and revisit the issue objectively as much as we can. Many people who will object to this philosophically are people who already know that they could probably do more critical thinking about it.”  

Time and the proper attitude are everything to achieve compliance, Patterson said. “Education helps people understand why the policy is being adopted. Time is needed to educate employees, students, alumni, community members, visitors, vendors, etc. Time also creates a sense of inevitability. Some who disagree with the policy will come to accept it over time. Attitude is important too. It helps no one to demonize tobacco users. It accomplishes little to argue with those who disagree,” he said. “An attitude of respect and thoughtfulness towards others not only reduces reaction formation, it teaches by example.”

Dr. Michael Chipps, Northeast president, said he understands this is not an easy policy to implement, but it is necessary for the health benefits and respect of others. “From my past experiences of where similar policies have been instituted, it has worked! We don’t plan to be disrespectful to tobacco users, but we will simply do what we can to provide gentle reminders of the policy. I believe after a few months, people will be accustomed to the fact that tobacco use is not allowed on any of our college properties, including the extended campuses.”

Chipps said this is also an effort to better promoting health, wellness and a healthy environment at the College. “This is a practice that we can develop and implement that will help our college rise to a greater level of operation.”

Northeast Community College is assisting its employees who use tobacco products with cessation classes this spring, according to Dr. Karen Severson, vice president of student services. “The seven-week “Freedom from Tobacco” program emphasizes that quitting tobacco and maintaining abstinence is a learning process where individuals must learn to manage nicotine addiction, unlearn automatic behaviors of tobacco use and substitute healthy new alternatives. Fees for the class were waived for many of the first people to register for the program,” she said. The program is sponsored by the American Lung Association and Faith Regional Health Services.”

Meanwhile, Patterson said higher education institutions and other organizations are increasingly adopting policies that prohibit tobacco use in open spaces. “The approach taken determines the success of the implementation of such policies. If implemented perfunctorily, the policy will fail. If sufficient time is taken to educate about the policy, teach the importance of compliance, and to continue providing ‘after care,’ it will succeed.”  


                                                               PHOTO CUTLINE

Ty Patterson, executive director of the National Center for Tobacco Policy, tapes a segment in the Northeast Community College broadcasting studio that will be shown to students. Patterson was in Norfolk Monday to meet with faculty and staff, College partners and community members as Northeast transitions from a college-wide smoke –free policy, which allows smoking and tobacco use outside of buildings, to a college-wide tobacco-free policy, which entirely eliminates the use of tobacco products on its four campuses starting August 1, 2014.

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