Grant aims to reduce smoking, tobacco use at USNH and CCSNH institutions

Last modified: Friday, December 26, 2014
On the University of New Hampshire campus, smoking is not permitted within 20 feet of building entrances. NHTI limits smoking to designated shelters. And Nashua Community College is tobacco-free.

A grant awarded to the University System of New Hampshire and the Community College System of New Hampshire this past fall aims to further reduce smoking and tobacco use at these systems’ educational institutions over the next two years.

“We would like to eliminate tobacco use on the campuses,” said Amy Schwartz, a UNH professor and project director for the Tobacco Free Campus Initiative grant. “It’s great that now we have resources to do that.”

The $180,000, two-year grant from the New Hampshire Tobacco and Prevention Control Program will allow the 23 campuses to form health and wellness committees to create guidelines and policies to curb tobacco use.

“We want to make this an environment that supports healthy behaviors, it’s as simple as that,” Schwartz said.

Smoking policies and tobacco use by students vary across the system, with some institutions already completely restricting smoking and tobacco. USNH includes UNH, Keene State College, Plymouth State University and Granite State College; CCSNH is made up of seven community colleges.

The percentage of smokers, though, is still relatively high on some campuses, surpassing the national and statewide averages. About 18 percent of adults in the United States are smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In New Hampshire, 19.4 percent of adults are smokers, the CDC reports.

The percentage of smokers at UNH exceeds statewide statistics. According to a 2013 survey, 23 percent of UNH student respondents reported they had smoked tobacco within the past 30 days.

Schwartz said she often sees clusters of students smoking outside buildings on campus. “I just see it more than I think I would see it,” she said.

NHTI reports a lower percentage of smokers than UNH. A smoking policy survey from 2011 from the college found that 20 percent of student respondents used tobacco products daily, while 9.5 percent of faculty and staff respondents used tobacco daily.

The existing policy at NHTI, which permits smoking only in designated shelters and in personal vehicles, received a mixed response in that same survey about its effectiveness. About 37 percent of student respondents said that no change is needed to the policy because it is working, while about 32 percent supported eliminating smoking and becoming smoke-free; a majority of faculty respondents – about 45 percent – said the policy is working.

Many community colleges – including River Valley Community College, White Mountains Community College and Manchester Community College – have policies similar to NHTI, where smoking is permitted only in designated areas.

The role of the program is to help campuses facilitate in the creation of healthy environments, Schwartz said. “We’re not going to dictate any policies,” she said.

Because the campus cultures, policies and tobacco use rates are so different, the health and wellness committees at the different institutions will likely develop individual programs and policies for their campuses.

“We may end up with different approaches,” Schwartz said. “It might look very different at every campus.”

Aiding students or faculty in their attempts to quit smoking must also be individualized, Schwartz said. “One thing doesn’t work well for everybody,” she said. “If you’re at that point where you’re ready to quit, we’re there for support.”

Schwartz said that some social media tools and apps work well in helping some people quit smoking, while medications better help others. While nicotine gum and patches can be methods to quit tobacco use, colleges and universities are not going to purchase them for students, she said.

Free nicotine patches are available to New Hampshire residents, the state’s Department of Human and Health Services’ Division of Public Health Services announced last week. Nicola Whitley at the Department of Human and Health Services said that this offer, unrelated to the grant to USNH and CCSNH is available to students, as long as they fit the other requirements. Participants must be 18, ready to quit tobacco use within 30 days, participate in free telephone counseling and be screened for safe use of the patch.

(Susan Doucet can be reached at 369-3309, sdoucet@cmonitor.com or on Twitter