Gannon University is working closely with faculty, staff and students to review its tobacco policy and work to transition to a tobacco-free campus.
Currently, Gannon’s policy bans the use of tobacco in university vehicles and buildings, and the use of any sort of tobacco, including smokeless tobacco, is restricted to open areas, 20 feet away from entrances to or around any university buildings or housing units.
Just how many members of the Gannon community are aware of that policy is hard to say.
But Mary Jean Taylor, the director of university wellness and the founder of the Tobacco-Free Campus Task Force, or TFCTF, has an idea when it comes to students.
“Something that we found is that most of our students are unaware of our tobacco policy,” Taylor said.
Taylor founded the TFCTF in the fall of 2017 after she recognized a need to address tobacco use on campus.
Members of the TFCTF, which include Gannon faculty and students, meet bimonthly to make recommendations about the current policy and monitor progress.
After reviewing the current policy and making recommendations to the senior administration, the TFCTF was granted permission to conduct focus groups and survey the Gannon community about attitudes, behaviors and perceptions about tobacco use.
Andrew Caswell, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology and TFCTF member, conducted a survey of 942 undergraduate students that revealed that 81.5 percent of students think that colleges have a responsibility to provide smoke-free air to breathe, and 63.7 percent think that colleges have a responsibility to reduce the risk of tobacco addiction.
Melanie Minehart, a second-year nursing student, agrees that the current policy needs to change.
“A lot of students will smoke by the doors,” she said.
“I don’t think they should be allowed to smoke right outside campus.”
During TFCTF meetings, the panel discussed the transition process and possible hurdles, particularly those associated with urban campuses, such as shared outdoor space and creating smoking areas that are safe and well-lit.
Representatives from Erie Insurance and the Erie County Department of Health met with the panel about the transition, given Gannon’s proximity to the insurance buildings, and city and county property.
“Finding designated areas is a collaborative process,” Taylor said.
“We want to be a good neighbor and identify areas that are neutral.
“We also want to find spaces where tobacco users will feel comfortable as well,” she said.
All parties plan to meet after spring break to identify designated smoking areas.
To assist with the transition, the American Cancer Society awarded Gannon a Tobacco-Free Generation Campus Initiative Grant including an $8,000 cash award and consultative services.
According to the same survey, 11 percent of students are active cigarette smokers, and 45 percent of them are either planning to quit or are thinking of quitting.
Caswell noted that this process is not to shame or punish anyone, but to create a culture of healthy living on campus.
“While this transition is important and we want to create a culture of wellness, it’s a delicate balance between creating that culture and protecting the dignity of tobacco users,” Caswell said.
Flyers will be posted around the campus, as well as shared signage throughout the downtown area, with positive messages and for tobacco cessation.
Any student who would like to participate in a focus group and discuss topics around the university’s current tobacco policy is encouraged to contact Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org to register.