Q&A: How a Hispanic-Serving Institution became tobacco-free
The tobacco industry has a history of targeting Hispanic/Latino Americans with its marketing, including sponsoring Hispanic/Latino cultural events and even scholarships.
With 99% 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. Among high school students in 2021 – many of whom will enroll in college – nearly 3 in 10 (29.7%) Hispanic students reported having ever used a tobacco product and nearly 1 in 10 (9.1%) reported current use of cigarettes.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Truth Initiative spoke with a student and staff member from the Community College of Aurora (CCA) to discuss how they adopted the school’s tobacco-free policy. Community College of Aurora, a Hispanic-Serving Institution in Colorado, is also a current grantee of the Truth Initiative Tobacco/Vape-Free College Program. The program offers grants of up to $20,000 to colleges and universities to support the adoption and implementation of a 100% tobacco/vape-free policy. Since 2015, 145 grantees have adopted tobacco- and vape-free policies, protecting more than 1.3 million students, faculty, and staff each year. truth College Leader Misty Terrero is a student at CCA where Sydney Pedegron is Director of Student Life.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Q: Why did CCA apply to the Truth Initiative Tobacco/Vape-Free College Program?
Pedegron: We had noticed an increase of vape use on campus and decided to apply so we could better establish a tobacco-free policy on campus. To not do it in a way where it’s listed somewhere hard to find on a website but have clear signage on campus and community engagement, so that if folks want to quit smoking or vaping, they actually have resources in our community and people to support them.
Q: How have you spread the word to students?
Terrero: We’ve hosted Move It Tobacco, which was an event based on the suggestion to exercise to avoid the urge to smoke. Because if you’re sitting there with this idea of, “I want to smoke, I’m stressed,” moving around helps fight that urge. And then we hosted a breakfast because those who tend to smoke may not get enough nutrition, considering that nicotine reduces your appetite.
Pedegron: If a staff member sees smoking or vaping, they have these cards with our policy on the front and resources to quit on the back and, instead of saying, “Hey, stop smoking,” say instead, “Hey, did you know that we have this policy on campus? Here’s a card with more information.” I still have a stack of cards because it doesn’t happen often.
Q: Why are you passionate about this issue?
Terrero: From firsthand experience, I can see the correlation of substance use, such as smoking, and mental health. It's not a topic that’s easy to approach, especially coming from a Latinx household. So being an advocate for this program, I've been able to really communicate with students, “I know where you come from. I know your parents might not feel comfortable having this conversation. But really, this is impacting you just as much as it's impacting them.” That's where my passion comes from, just being able to be a voice for students and advocate through mentorship.
Pedegron: We’re a minority-serving institution. The majority of our students are Black and brown students, and we are rooted in being inclusive and supporting our students. The passion to do that is already instilled in us, so this is a continuation.