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The Oregonian's Aug. 2 editorial "PSU's off-campus smoking ban," about a proposal to ban smoking in the South Park Blocks, was misleading and did not acknowledge what steps Portland State University is taking to improve student health.
The city of Portland manages the South Park Blocks downtown and dictates where smoking is permitted. Portland Parks & Recreation currently prohibits smoking in Pioneer Courthouse Square, Jamison Square and all Portland parks around play structures or dining and picnic areas, and city officials will decide whether to extend that to the South Park Blocks.
For the Portland State campus, the university has launched a broader Healthy Campus Initiative and is considering designating "clean air corridors" this fall that would make the areas smoke-free between the classroom buildings from the Park Blocks to Broadway. A clean air corridor would include no smoking, no idling vehicles and minimized use of gas-powered landscaping equipment and small utility vehicles to help protect the health of students, employees and the public.
The clean air corridor proposal is part of our effort to provide a healthy, safe and sustainable campus environment. Portland State is taking steps to align with the rest of the Oregon University System. The University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Oregon Health & Science University and at least 10 other higher-education institutions in metro Portland have developed smoke-free campus policies.
All buildings at PSU are already designated smoke-free, as is a 25-foot radius around their entryways. Gov. John Kitzhaber, a physician, issued an executive order last week to require that all state buildings and adjacent properties be tobacco-free by 2014.
"Tobacco use remains the No. 1 preventable cause of death in Oregon, and it's estimated that state employees who smoke cost the state more than $13 million each year. Making this change will have a positive impact for state employees, clients and visitors," the governor said.
Portland State does not plan to tell smokers not to smoke. We will ask them to smoke elsewhere. We encourage those students who are interested in quitting to seek help with a smoking-cessation program at the Center for Student Health and Counseling or through their health insurance plans.
The Healthy Campus Initiative is much more than restricting tobacco on campus. We've adopted a proactive approach to health aimed at students and employees that goes beyond illness treatment to include prevention, education, exercise and a focus on emotional well-being. The opening of the Academic and Student Recreation Center in 2010 is one example of student advocacy for more recreation and fitness opportunities. It remains a popular hub for students of all abilities to exercise, play sports and bolster their health.
As the largest and most diverse campus in the state, we recognize the challenges of providing a healthy environment in an urban setting. Part of that challenge is the gap among many college students between perception and reality. A 2010 national assessment survey of urban universities, including PSU, found that 92 percent of students rated their health "good," "very good" or "excellent" -- yet more than half of the students surveyed received treatment for a wide array of health problems, from substance abuse to eating disorders to depression. These are among the factors leading us to emphasize wellness education, stress management, nutrition and the creation of clean air corridors.
This goes beyond a no-smoking policy. Our goal is to develop and encourage good health for our nearly 30,000 students and the thousands of others who visit and work at Portland State. Good health benefits everybody.
Physician Dana Tasson is executive director of the Center for Student Health and Counseling at Portland State University. Alex Accetta is director of campus recreation.