University task force recommends implementing tobacco-free policy

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State Smoke Free/Tobacco Free Task Force, in an effort to enhance the health of the entire Penn State community, has concluded its evaluation of options and is recommending to make Penn State a tobacco-free University.

The findings of the task force have been sent to President Eric Barron for his review and consideration and are being shared with the University Faculty Senate, Staff Advisory Council and student body governments, including the University Park Undergraduate Association, Graduate and Professional Student Association and Council of Commonwealth Student Governments. Throughout the next several weeks, President Barron will review the report and hear feedback from these constituencies. Based on the collective findings, a final decision will be made and announced later in the semester.

If adopted, Penn State would become the 11th Big Ten school to implement such policies.

The recommendations report outlines seven key recommendations and provides background and rationale for why these policy changes are critical to achieving the mission and goals of Penn State, including how they support the University’s key thematic priority of “enhancing health.”

Penn State has been engaged in the examination of smoking on campus since 1982 when the first smoking policy and guideline was created. In recent years, an increased discussion among the Penn State community including student-led awareness and survey efforts indicated a need to evaluate University policies. President Barron appointed a task force in January 2017 to examine the issue.

“Firstly, I want to thank the task force for their dedication, time and careful attention to this important issue as well as all those who provided their valuable insights and counsel to help shape the findings in this report,” President Barron said. “The health consequences of tobacco-related products can be profound, and we take the well-being of our Penn State community seriously. We have the opportunity to make a fundamental shift in what it means to enhance health, and this is an opportunity to impact the Penn State community, today and in the future.”

As noted in the University’s Strategic Plan, “creating healthy environments for all and helping the people who are part of our community embrace healthy behaviors will enable Penn State to effectively achieve its mission” of becoming a leader in higher education.

“The work of the task force is an example of the University’s commitment to advancing its plan to promote quality of life and inspire healthy behaviors and improvements in overall wellness for all of our community members and for those visiting our campuses,” said task force co-chair Linda LaSalle, director of Health Promotion and Wellness in University Health Services. “If the recommendations are approved, Penn State will join more than 1,500 college campuses across the country with tobacco-free policies.”

Additionally, the report emphasizes the importance of communication, education and providing support services in order to enact lasting change. While the complexity and challenge of shifting familiar actions is acknowledged, the task force has outlined steps that can be taken to encourage and support these behavior changes.

The task force recommendations include:

1. Penn State becoming both smoke-free and tobacco-free, with smoking and tobacco prohibited on all campuses, and all University owned or leased properties, facilities and vehicles. The task force is also recommending a ban on the advertisement, distribution and sampling of tobacco products or tobacco merchandise on all Penn State campuses.

2. Creating an Office for a Smoke-Free/Tobacco-Free Penn State, which will be a resource for the University and will be responsible for the implementation, coordination and assessment of the outcomes of this initiative throughout the University.

3. Implementing a policy in fall 2017 with the entire semester used for communications and roll out of this initiative and a soft launch of the policy in January 2018. Enforcement of the policy will start in fall 2018 allowing the policy to be fully explained to new employees, visitors and to students during NSO in the summer of 2018.

4. Supporting any faculty, staff and students who wish to stop using tobacco or nicotine products with free smoking and tobacco cessation programs, and including information about smoking and tobacco cessation resources on the University’s tobacco-free campus website.

5. Enforcing the policy through the mechanism of peer support and encouragement, and only when necessary, supervisory oversight.

6. Communicating across the entire Penn State Community to build understanding and adherence.

7. Working collaboratively with individual communities local to each campus, keeping them informed of this initiative and creating synergies to advance our mission of improved health.

Throughout the seven months, the task force met with key stakeholders who could provide and represent the diverse interests and viewpoints across Penn State’s campuses. The individuals represented such areas as athletics, undergraduate and graduate student governments and councils, faculty, staff, alumni, local government, auxiliary and hospitality services, and administration.

“We are grateful that President Barron made the decision to appoint this task force and feel that the proposed changes will have a meaningful impact on the Penn State community,” said task force co-chair Renee Borromeo, associate teaching professor in the Physical Therapist Assistant program at Penn State Mont Alto, Joint Committee on Insurance and Benefits chair and Faculty Senate Committee on Faculty Benefits member.

The final task force recommendations report is available online.