Let the smoke clear and the cessation begin

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UC President Mark G. Yudof has directed all 10 UC Chancellors to form committees for the purpose of making the UCs smoke-free campuses within the next 24 months. His directive is aimed at removing all sales and advertising of tobacco products from every UC campus, including parking lots, outdoor parks, recreational areas and private residential space.

Except in the minds of some smokers, there is little debate regarding the serious effects of second-hand smoke (SHS). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified SHS as a “known human carcinogen.” Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemical compounds, 250 of which are known to be harmful and 60 of which are known to cause cancer.

Smokers who claim that the smoking ban infringes on their personal liberties, denying them the right to light up, are themselves in denial.  They refuse to acknowledge the rights of others, along with 46,000 heart disease related deaths, 3,400 lung cancer deaths and up to 1 million asthmatic children—all results of SHS.  The US Surgeon General’s Office linked SHS to spontaneous abortion, still-born birth, damaged sperm, harmful fetal development, and sudden infant death syndrome, to name a few.

So let’s be perfectly clear: on the issue of liberties, you cannot take a gun to your head, pull the trigger and (because your head is empty) blow the brains out of the person standing next to you.  The freedom to light up imposes your will on others, a will that brings with it serious harm and death.

Presently, UCR has designated smoking areas, yet cigarette butts continue to line our walk ways and often end up in flower beds and garden areas, including lawns.  The system of enforcement upon which the university has relied in the past has not proven effective, principally because compliance in this system is dependent solely upon honor and signage. Legislating enforcement without the resources necessary to secure compliance presents a serious problem, one which is exacerbated by the fact that administrators are contending with a legal addictive agent—nicotine; so on to cessation.

In 2007, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that 45 million adults in the United States smoke, and over 13 million smokers try to quit each year; but less than five percent will be cigarette free six to 12 months later.  Cigarette smoking tops the list of the most preventable causes of death in our country, killing an estimated 438,000 people each year.  According to the American Heart Association, nicotine addiction is one of the hardest addictions to break and is similar to a heroin or cocaine addiction.  Within 10 seconds of taking a puff, nicotine causes the release of dopamine into the brain, resulting in a feeling of pleasure.  With each cigarette the cravings increase and dependency takes hold.

However, there may be opportunity lurking within the UC’s ban on smoking.  It appears that President Yudof’s directive includes a stipulation requiring that cessation resources be made available to staff and students.  Currently, the healthcare industry spends $100 billion annually on tobacco related care, much of it directed at prevention and cessation programs, according to the CDC.  States struggling to make ends meet will spend less than 2 percent of their tobacco tax and billion dollar tobacco settlements on cessation and prevention programs.

The American Lung Association (ALA) identified California as one of the worse states when it came to prevention and cessation programs.  The state received an “F” grade for tobacco prevention and cessation and a “D” grade for their tax on cigarettes.  This fiscal year, California’s total funding for state tobacco control programs is $85 million, and its cigarette tax is 87 cents, which is lower than 22 other states.  Of these states, 17 charge a tax between $1.46 and $2.92 and five charge a tax over $2.92.  So why hasn’t California done its share in the areas of prevention and cessation and why is our tax so low?  A study by the ALA reported that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces the amount of children that smoke by approximately 7 percent.  It’s time to reduce access to cigarettes and increase the cigarette tax in California.

Are you getting the picture yet regarding opportunity?  Yes, the University of California is a leader in research and education, and who better to brave this world of science and medicine then the incredibly brave and brilliant minds therein.  This is an opportunity to create successful prevention and cessation programs; an opportunity to discover the magic pill that will save millions of lives, billions of dollars and restore revenues to our educational system.  So what are we waiting for?  Get to work!

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