Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Study finds 10% of freshmen begin smoking in college

As the freshman class enters The University of Alabama, about 6 percent will arrive as smokers. When they leave as graduates, 16 percent will walk away with the habit. That’s a three-fold increase in just four years.

This data comes from a study done by Zac McMillian, a sophomore majoring in management information systems at the University, along with representatives from the SGA, faculty senate, professional staff assembly, office clerical and technical staff assembly and health professionals. This study is the first of its kind at the University.

McMillian began the study his freshman year, with project originally started to clear the air outside the Ridgecrest South residential building. As a member of the First Year Council, McMillian was approached by a fellow freshman who asked what could be done about the smoking outside the entrance to the building. McMillian began working with the SGA and from there, the issue snowballed.

“Come November, it went from getting rid of smoking in front of Ridgecrest, to what can we do about smoking in general,” McMillian said.

That’s when he found out the University had no statistics on the issue. A study on smoking at The University of Alabama had never been done before.

“We didn’t have any statistics because The University of Alabama had never actually done a study on tobacco use at all with our students,” McMillian said. “And so me, being a freshman, I’m like, ‘okay, we can do this right?’”

Over a five-month period they created the survey, and after dozens of drafts, presented it to the IRB and ISSR, the two governing research bodies on campus. McMillian said they wanted to make sure it was unbiased and would provide hard, factual data, based on a variety of demographics.

“We knew we couldn’t base an argument for change if we didn’t have any statistics to back it up,” McMillian said. “That’s why we took the time to make sure it was non-biased.”

Approval from these two research institutes meant a uniformly unbiased creation, distribution and analysis of the data as well as a fair representation of the campus.

The survey grew out of a need for data, and a complaint at a residential hall. Now, it is an impetus for policy change.

“We got the information last spring,” McMillian said, “and we’ve been working this whole year now to use that data to try and implement policy change on campus.”

On par with other universities, smokers make up 10.4 percent of the student body while 53.9 percent of the student body who does not smoke is exposed to, and inhales, secondhand smoke at least three days a week on campus.

“After talking to a lot of people, the general consensus was people wanted something done, because the 30-foot rule wasn’t effective at all, and still isn’t,” McMillian said.

Delynne Wilcox, the assistant director of health planning and prevention in the department of health and wellness, said 53.9 percent of students, though not actually smokers, are still put at equal risk as the smokers.

“You can find research studies on that, where people who are non-smokers but are around smokers will actually develop some of the chronic health problems of smokers and the cancers that are typical of smokers, even though they are non-smokers, just by exposure to second-hand smoke,” Wilcox said.

In the survey, freshmen expressed their exposure was higher, with 69.2 percent reporting inhaling second-hand smoke three days a week.

In an effort to prevent some students from picking the habit up upon coming to college, some schools have instituted tobacco-free and smoke-free campus policies. McMillian said research has suggested this method effectively prevents non-smokers from becoming smokers in their years at college.

One such study, published in the journal “Preventative Medicine,” was one done over two years between Indiana and Purdue, where Indiana University implemented a smoke-free campus policy and Purdue stayed the same. The overall level of smokers went down by 3 percent at Indiana, whereas at Purdue, it went up by a half a percent.

McMillian also suggested appeasing smokers and non-smokers alike ny implementing smoking zones.

The University’s current policy prohibits smoking in all university buildings and within 30 feet of the entrance to any building.

When asked if UA administration would consider policy change, UA spokeswoman Cathy Andreen handed the debate back to the researchers.

“The faculty senate, the SGA, the professional staff assembly and other groups are currently evaluating whether they should recommend that the entire campus be smoke and tobacco free,” Andreen said.

McMillian said he hopes to have a decision by the end of the semester.

“I’m not sure what that will be, if anything, if it’s the decision to stay the same, that’s a decision, but I don’t think it’d be fair to implement something too soon for smokers,” he said.

He said the current roadblock is moving the proposal through the SGA senate.

“There’s a couple of senators that will filibuster the thing to death, and not let any academic discussion come up,” he said.

McMillian said if the University does decide to move towards a smoke-free policy, it would come with preparation, and cessation programs for smokers. His timeline goal is August 2014. He said they need time to tell people at Bama Bound, and current students and faculty. The end goal of these measures is to stop that 6 percent from turning into 16 percent.

“If we could keep the number of individuals who pick up smoking while on campus down, then we’ve succeeded I think,” he said.

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