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University of Michigan to go completely smoke free in 2011

Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 20, 2009

All three University campuses will be smoke free when a new policy announced by University administrators yesterday takes effect on July 1, 2011.

Chris Dzombak/Daily
Robert Winfield, the University's chief health officer, speaks at the SACUA meeting on Monday, April 20, 2009. Winfield will co-chair the Smoke Free University Steering Committee.

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The initiative is meant to reduce the health risks associated with secondhand smoke and reduce health costs associated with smoking.

“A healthier, smoke-free physical environment will only enhance the intellectual vigor of our campuses,” University President Mary Sue Coleman wrote in an campus-wide e-mail yesterday. “Our decision to become smoke-free aligns perfectly with the goals of MHealthy to improve the health of our community.”

University Chief Health Officer Robert Winfield and School of Public Health Dean Kenneth Warner will co-chair the Smoke Free University Steering Committee, which is charged with creating a dialogue on campus about the policy in order to get input from students, faculty and staff.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Winfield said the policy is aimed at reducing secondhand smoke around campus in order to improve the overall health of the University community.

“Certainly irritation of secondhand smoke is an issue and what’s also important is doing the right thing for the health of the community,” Winfield said.

According to Winfield, another major reason for implementing the policy is to decrease the cost of health care for University faculty and staff. Within five years of implementing such a policy, Winfield said health care costs usually start to decline.

“We learned that the health care costs are at least $2,000 more per year for people who smoke than for nonsmokers,” he added.

According to a press release on the policy, about 14 percent of University employees are smokers. A 2006 survey found that about 16 percent of University students smoke one or more cigarettes a month, according to Winfield.

There will be five subcommittees — one each for students, community relations, faculty and staff, communications and grounds and facilities — working to create the best way to implement the policy, Winfield said.

In order to help smokers transition into a community with this new policy, the University will offer free behavioral counseling and discounts on over-the-counter smoking cessation products for students, faculty and staff. University employees will also have reduced co-pays on prescription cessation products, Winfield said.

In the fall of 2010, Winfield said the committee will bring the proposed policy before University administrators for an official review.

But until that point, Winfield said there are still several questions as to how the policy will be implemented to create a smooth transition for all members of the University community. Because this plan is still in the developmental stages, Winfield said it is important to get input from many different groups on campus, as well as from other private companies that neighbor University property.

“What we want to do is hear from people about how we can get from here to our goal, and what that goal will look like in terms of impact on people,” Winfield said.

Winfield brought up various challenges that may arise with the implementation of such a policy, including how to deal with smoking at football game tailgates, near performing arts centers and on the University golf course, in which guests of the University are often present.

Winfield discussed the policy with members of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs at its meeting yesterday, and said another concern is how to handle potential apprehensions of international students who may come from countries in which smoking is an intricate part of their culture or national tradition.

The University’s Department of Public Safety will not give out tickets for violations of the policy, Winfield said, but specific repercussions for disobeying the policy are being discussed.