A year after former President Sharon Herzberger announced that Whittier College would be banning tobacco products in Fall 2017, the College officially became a tobacco-free campus on Sep. 2, 2018. Whittier College designated a task force to research the issue and assist the College in coming to a final decision regarding the legality of tobacco products on campus. Following in the footsteps of other California colleges, this influential ruling not only helps to improve the health of faculty, staff, and students, but also helps improve their overall quality of life on campus, with students no longer being off put by the smell of tobacco or having to constantly worry about the dangers of secondhand smoke.
You may have seen the new TOBACCO-FREE signs posted outside nearly every building on campus, and, while the rule seems to imply that only tobacco itself is banned, do not be misled: the College’s ruling also bans the usage of e-cigarettes anywhere on campus. Designated Smoking Areas have become areas just for sitting and not for smoking. The full policy can be found at: https://www.whittier.edu/policies/tobacco.
Dr. Rebecca Romberger of the Counseling Center said, “There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke,” citing data from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco contains over 7,000 chemicals, and a tenth of those have been proven to cause cancer. While the studies are less clear on portable vaporizers, it is safe to say they can still cause damage to those who smoke them, as well as the people around them.
In pursuit of helping their students thrive in their environment, Whittier College assembled the Tobacco-Free Task Force. Members of the Task Force include Dean of Students Joel Pérez, Director of Health and Wellness Stella Wohlfarth, Director of Human Relations Cynthia Joseph, Director of the Counseling Center Rebecca Romberger, and Student Intern Taylor Beckwith. The Task Force conducted over 18 months of research, which eventually culminated in the decision to ban all tobacco-related products on campus. In an email to the campus at the start of the year, Joel Pérez said, “The Tobacco-Free Task Force worked diligently to create the policy, addressing issues of compliance, signage and the overall effect it would have on campus.”
The initiative was met with little pushback. Taylor Beckwith, undergrad intern for the Task Force, said, “Feedback was gathered from members of the WC community. A few individuals spoke in favor of continuing the use of tobacco products on campus, most did not.” On a similar note, Joel Pérez noted that the campus has been relatively quiet in regards to the new rule.
Other organizations helped the Task Force in making the College tobacco-free. “Whittier College received a grant from the American Cancer and CVS foundations to begin with the transition to a tobacco-free campus,” said Beckwith. “After the grant was received, the transition and policy-writing began and led to the final policy.” This grant was used primarily to purchase tobacco cessation products, free to use for all students, to supply in the Health and Wellness Center.
Whittier College is not the first school to ban tobacco products altogether: University of California Los Angeles dropped the hammer on tobacco in 2014, and last year, California State University implemented a 23-campus-wide ban on smoke and tobacco. CVS Health conducted a national poll regarding tobacco use in colleges, reporting that “three-quarters of respondents say smoking and tobacco use is a problem among college students.” In an interview, Joel Pérez stated that the school’s decision was “modeled based on what other schools had done when they moved in this direction, which includes taking anywhere from 12 to 18 months before a change like this actually gets implemented.” According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 80 percent of all adult smokers begin smoking by age 18, and 90 percent do so before turning 20.
While the College’s primary focus is to help its members thrive in a healthy setting, it has taken steps to ensure that their policy accounts for students who still smoke. In addition to still being allowed to smoke off campus, Whittier College also offers a number of cessation products and techniques to assist those who are trying to quit smoking. “We offer cessation techniques and products that students and faculty and staff can use if they want to move towards being tobacco-free,” said Joel Pérez. These products include nicotine gum.
With new-age, barely-regulated smoking products on the rise, Whittier College took the steps necessary to help protect their students, faculty, and staff by banning tobacco products altogether. “We really felt like this was something to benefit the entire campus for health reasons. It wasn’t us trying to take away someone’s right to smoke,” said Pérez. “It was a move that we needed to make as a campus to promote good health and in following with a lot of other places in the state.”