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Tobacco-free campus: Committed group of UAA students make sure more Alaskans breathe easier

  • Author: Alison Kulas
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published November 18, 2015

More Alaskans can breathe easier when the University of Alaska Anchorage campus goes tobacco-free and smoke-free. On Nov. 19, UAA joins over 1500 colleges and universities across the country in providing a healthier environment for students, staff and visitors by not allowing tobacco use, including e-cigarettes, on campus.

This initiative is about respect for each other and the shared environment. And it is especially about creating an environment that encourages making healthy choices. Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in Alaska. It outnumbers deaths from suicide, motor vehicle crashes, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, homicide, HIV/AIDS and influenza combined.

It is well known that secondhand tobacco smoke has tangible and severe health consequences. Studies are also showing e-cigarettes emit aerosols that contain formaldehyde, benzene and tobacco-specific nitrosamines, all of which are carcinogens. The FDA does not regulate these devices, and there is no evidence that e-cigarettes and secondhand aerosols are safe.

The UAA tobacco-free campus policy is the result of a longtime grassroots effort. It started with a group of students committed to making UAA a healthier place to learn, work and grow. With staff support, they worked with their peers to gather over 400 signatures and accomplish an eventual vote of the student body to make the change. According to a 2013 survey, 75 percent of UAA students support a smoke-free campus. Over time, the movement grew and spread statewide. The University of Alaska Southeast campus became tobacco-free July 1, and by Jan. 1, 2016 -- the date set to launch a tobacco-free University of Alaska Fairbanks campus -- the entire University of Alaska system will be smoke-free and tobacco-free.

People generally start smoking in their youth; the vast majority of tobacco users become addicted to nicotine before the age of 26. Tobacco-free campus policies create a healthier living and learning environment for young people, demonstrate that tobacco use is not the norm, prepare students for working in Alaska's tobacco-free and smoke-free business environment, and support community members trying to quit tobacco.

November 19 was chosen as the launch date to coincide with the well-known Great American Smokeout. What began 40 years ago as an annual American Cancer Society event encouraging people to quit for a single day has since spurred organizations and communities across the country to implement smoke-free and tobacco-free policies. Research shows that smokers who have social support are more successful quitting tobacco for good. The UAA Student Health and Counseling Center has staff available to assist with cessation, support groups and classes. Alaska's Tobacco Quit Line is also a resource for any Alaskan ready to quit, providing telephone, web or text coaching and free nicotine replacement therapy at 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669).

This effort of the UAA students was supported by Chancellor Tom Case. We applaud him for his leadership in allowing the students to express their concern and build demand for change. Alaskans can breathe easier knowing that a committed group of students can make a difference for us all.

Alison Kulas is the program manager for the State of Alaska Tobacco Prevention and Control program. She earned a Master of Science degree in Public Health from Tulane University and has more than 12 years of public health experience.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)

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