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How colleges are sustaining momentum for tobacco/vape-free campus policies virtually

In addition to adapting to remote learning, colleges have been confronting how to virtually engage students in campus initiatives.

The grantees of the Tobacco/Vape-Free College Program, which since 2015 has protected 1.1 million people and worked with hundreds of schools with an emphasis on minority-serving academic institutions, community colleges and women’s colleges to help them become tobacco-free, are no stranger to these challenges. After canceling events planned to educate their campuses about tobacco and vaping and build support for the adoption of a tobacco/vape-free policy, many have moved their projects forward in a virtual capacity.

Here are a few examples of how the institutions and their truth® College Leaders – students who help develop and lead engagement, educational and advocacy activities to educate and organize their peers and build a movement to become a tobacco-free campus – have been pushing forward.

  • Leaders at Columbia Basin College have been focused on planning two virtual events for the campus community. The Virtual Earth Day Event encouraged students and staff to share a photo of them picking up trash and using a special hashtag. Participants were randomly selected to win e-gift cards. They have also been working to organize Vaping Awareness Sessions for both students and employees. These virtual sessions will be live presentations highlighting vaping data and trends.
  • Brenau University College Leader Madison Romeo had a meeting with the college’s president via Zoom. During the meeting, Madison shared the benefits of a tobacco-free campus based on a student survey that showed support for a tobacco-free policy, past events and a brief overview of cessation offerings on campus. The virtual meeting helped move the policy a step closer to being adopted.
  • Policies can be adopted virtually too. Leaders at Sullivan County Community College presented their school’s policy to its Board of Trustees via a Google Hangout. After answering questions from board members about the importance of the tobacco-free policy and student support, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to adopt the policy. Even in a remote setting, the importance of a policy doesn’t change and can be adopted.

Many other institutions are planning virtual activities over the summer and into the fall. Some include virtual town halls, leadership meetings, discussion panels, educational webinars, cessation classes and wellness activities, such as meditation.

With 98% of smokers starting before age 26, college campuses are critical to preventing young adults from starting tobacco use, aiding current smokers in quitting and reducing exposure to secondhand smoke for all. The recent surge in youth e-cigarette use — 27.5% of high school students reporting current e-cig use in 2019— has made it even more important for schools to adopt policies and ensure those policies include e-cigarette use. Vaping is driving an overall increase in youth tobacco use to almost a third of high schoolers — 31.2% — a rate unseen in nearly two decades. 

Support for 100% tobacco-free policies on college campuses has skyrocketed in recent years. The number of college and universities with 100% smoke-free or tobacco-free policies tripled, from 446 campuses in 2010 to 2,487 campuses in 2020.