April 19, 2004

Team effort needed to curb campus smoking         

By Eric Rangus

Historically, the circular ring in the back pocket of a baseball player's pants has been so familiar that it could be listed as standard equipment. A bulging cheek often accompanies that ring.

The combination, of course, is a telltale sign of chewing tobacco, a presence on the baseball diamond almost as common as a glove, and much more dangerous.

Clyde Partin, longtime faculty member and an assistant coach with Emory's baseball team, decided to do something about it. He would talk to baseball campers--teenagers and younger--about the hazards of chewing, tobacco though he didn't have to get on his Emory players' backs too much; chewing tobacco was an offense that could lead to suspension.

But curbing tobacco use among athletes and adolescents wasn't enough. So, in 2001 Partin called Susan Butler in the Rollins School of Public Health.

"I think I was about two years too late," said Partin, professor of health, physical education and dance emeritus and still an assistant baseball coach. "There already were a lot of people at Emory talking about smoking and how to stop it."

One of the most vocal was Butler. Since 1999 she had been a member of the Georgia Alliance for Tobacco Prevention. In 2000, she joined a similarly themed organization sponsored by the DeKalb County Board of Health. Following her conversation with Partin, Butler began to think bigger. Perhaps forming a larger committee was warranted.

"We brainstormed about who should be involved, and the answers were easy," said Butler, assistant professor and director of public health's Office of Health Promotion. "You think of all the stakeholders and it snowballs. You think of someone, then they will think of someone else."

That's how the Campus Tobacco Control Team was born. Butler is its coordinator, and Partin is just one of many contributing voices. The team consists of nearly 20 Emory faculty, staff, administrators and students, as well as off-campus interests (Kathleen Cóllomb, tobacco use prevention unit coordinator for the DeKalb Board of Health, has worked with Butler for several years and helped lay the groundwork for the committee).

Emory representatives include a broad mix of people from all over campus including the Faculty Staff Assistance Program, the general counsel's office, Student Health Services, Campus Fire Safety and Employee Council.

The team's mission is to increase awareness within the Emory community about the dangers of tobacco use, facilitate tobacco-free policies on campus, reduce secondhand smoke exposure and assist tobacco users with cessation programs. "Our work has been to create and maintain a healthy environment for people who have to work and go to school here," Butler said.

The team accomplishes this through marketing (in school curricula and social marketing), cessation support, surveys and research, coalition building, policy advancement, and economics (promoting the refusal of tobacco-funded research, for example).

Currently the team is focused on ramping up its marketing campaign. "In terms of education awareness, we are working with the undergraduate health education courses, PE 101, and we are working with peer educators in Student Health Services and also in residence halls," Butler said. Butler also is attacking smoking through her scholarship; she currently is researching the effect of smoking bans in family households.

Colleen Carter-Lunceford, director of health education and promotion in Student Health Services, was one of the first people to join the team. She had been working on smoking cessation efforts for several years prior to the team's formation but she hadn't met with much success.

"Nobody would come," she said. Faculty and staff didn't want to take classes with students, and students didn't want to sit in with faculty, so it was a wash. Eventually, the Faculty Staff Assistance Program picked up the cessation work, while Carter-Lunceford refocused her efforts toward students.

With Cóllomb she now co-coordinates presentations to freshman health education classes (PE 101), the centerpiece of which is an informative slide show that speaks to the history of tobacco, how people become addicted, health consequences (including secondhand smoke), how tobacco companies market to consumers and, most importantly, how to stop smoking.

The numbers appear to be in the team's favor, at least among students. A needs assessment performed by the team sampled 500 freshmen, and 78 percent of them did not smoke.

"Of course, that's still 22 percent too many who do smoke," said Partin. "Most college students have some sense; they can read the writing on the wall. They understand that smoking isn't healthy."

Earlier this year, the team got the results of a survey completed by public health's Tobacco Technical Assistance Consortium (TTAC) on smoking policies at nine other universities.

"We wanted to see how we were doing compared to other campuses," said Carter-Lunceford. "Whether we were ahead or behind." And what did those results reveal?

"We are a little behind," she said. "But we are on the right track."

Case in point, in March 2003 after nearly two years of advocacy, the University passed a new smoking policy that prohibited smoking within 25 feet of building entrances. That policy came on the heels of the DeKalb County Clean Indoor Air Ordinance, which took effect the previous month. That ordinance, which applies to the Emory campus, bans smoking from all indoor public places (except for bars and similar establishments), and it marks a huge step in the team's goal to reduce secondhand smoke exposure. After all, if smokers don't congregate around doors, nonsmokers will have uninterrupted fresh air going in and out.

Butler said educating the Emory community about that policy is the team's first and most important job.