The Oregonian: PSU joins effort to go smoke-free by 2016
Author: Sara Hottman, The Oregonian
Posted: March 8, 2013

Read the original story here in The Oregonian. 

Will Laubernds, 29, smoked his first cigarette -- stolen from his older sister -- in elementary school. Through middle and high school he and friends would smoke cigarettes as they could steal them from their parents.

"Before I knew it, I was in college, in my own apartment, smoking a pack a day, super-addicted," says Laubernds, a personal trainer who recently graduated from Portland State University.

After 10 years as a smoker, he quit, tired of feeling controlled by his addiction.

"It was literally controlling decisions I made during the day," he says. "As soon as I got up, I had a cigarette with coffee. I had to have one after meals, driving my car, between classes. If it was pouring rain, I still had to have a cigarette."

Laubernds is the type of student U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Region 10 is targeting with its Fresh Air Campus Challenge, launched last week at PSU. The challenge is an effort to encourage colleges in Oregon, Alaska, Idaho and Washington to become smoke-free by 2016 - the first DHHS region to issue such a challenge.

"This is a public health revolution," Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health with DHHS, said at the launch event.

Nationally, 1,130 campuses nationwide have smoke-free policies, up from 530 in 2011, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation. Sixty of 180 colleges in Region 10 already are smoke-free, including Portland Community College.

"The Pacific Northwest is known for its health -- we should be the first to get this done," said Patrick O'Carroll, regional health administrator for DHHS Region 10.

According to challenge organizers, smoke-free campuses are cleaner, have lower maintenance costs and less risk of fire damage.

For former smokers like Laubernds, smoke-free means an easier path to quitting, which took him three years.

Eliminating triggers like smelling secondhand smoke was critical to quitting for him, which is why he helped the school create PSU's Clean Air Corridor. The corridor, started in January, bans smoking from outside of three of PSU's most-used buildings -- roughly an area framed by Southwest Mill and Hall streets, Park Avenue and Broadway.

"It's not to tell people to quit smoking," Laubernds says. "It's to give people -- those who are trying to quit or have asthma or are walking to class -- the option not to be exposed to it."

Student advocates say they've encountered little resistance to the corridor. In fact, the most traditionally smoker-inclined group -- art students -- isn't resisting the change; a group of them made a pact to stop smoking.

But student advocates also acknowledge that the appealing social aspect of smoking may hinder their efforts to make the campus smoke-free.

Losing the socializing around smoking "was the biggest bummer for me," Laubernds says.

Asking a fellow smoker for a light is an easy way to start a conversation, he says.

Hannah Muller, 24, a public health graduate student at PSU, was a social smoker for years.

She finally quit in 2011 as she increasingly encountered resistance to her habit. PCC went smoke-free while she attended. Then she visited a friend in Victoria, B.C., which has strict public smoking restrictions. Then she moved into a no-smoking dorm at PSU.

"I started to see it more stigmatized," Muller says. "I realized this habit is really upsetting parts of my life."

Muller sees the challenge as a way to make smoking increasingly inconvenient - the key to helping people quit, she says.

PSU enters the challenge after already limiting tobacco on campus, most recently with the Clean Air Corridor, says Gwyn Ashcom, health educator at PSU.

For years it has been increasing its cessation programs, including giving students who want to quit six weeks of free counseling through their student health insurance. In 2008 it banned tobacco sales from the student store. In 2010 it banned smoking in its Urban Center Plaza.

To meet the 2016 smoke-free goal, PSU is working with the city to hash out a smoking policy for the Park Avenue blocks.

"We took bites at what we knew we could," Ashcom says. With the challenge "we're hoping to build momentum on campus to get to our ultimate goal of smoke-free."

Sara Hottman