Wesleyan University leaders have declared the Middletown campus tobacco- and vape-free, but enforcement will be limited to warnings and encouragements to quit.
The policy, which went into effect Jan. 1, covers the entire campus, indoors and out, and applies to students, staff and visitors.
“This policy,” according to an FAQ on the university website, “is intended to provide a healthy living, learning and working community. The policy will help to reduce health risks and reduce campus litter associated with tobacco use. This policy also helps to prepare individuals for careers, etc. in increasingly tobacco-free work environments.”
Chewing tobacco and snuff are prohibited along with smoking, but the policy does not include nicotine replacement products designed to help people quit smoking. Federal law already prohibits marijuana and THC use on campus.
No fines or other punishments are included in the new policy.
“All members of the Wesleyan community share the responsibility to respect this policy,” a statement on the university website says. “The goal of this initiative is to be educational, supportive and engaging to encourage individuals who use tobacco and vape products to quit. Through continued peer support and voluntary compliance, the goal remains to foster behavior and culture change over time..”
Compliance will be supported, Johnson said, in part through free nicotine gum, patches and lozenges and “quit kits” that include flavored toothpicks, fidget toys and informational pamphlets. The handouts are funded through a $7,500 state grant, she said.
“We want this policy to be supportive in nature,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to ad any stress to the quitting process.”
September Johnson, Wesleyan’s alcohol and other drugs specialist, said the policy had been under discussion for a while, but concerns increased with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic as research emerged on the exacerbating effects of smoking and vaping.
Tobacco- and vape-free campuses are a growing trend throughout the nation, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. Of 2,560 100% smoke-free campus sites, 2,122 are 100% tobacco-free, 2,194 prohibit e-cigarette use, 1,201 prohibit hookah use, 554 prohibit smoking/vaping marijuana, and 619 explicitly include personal vehicles on campus in the policy protections, according to the foundation.
The foundation’s list of campuses that prohibit tobacco use and vaping includes several Connecticut colleges, including Southern Connecticut State University and Quinnipiac University.
The latest statistics show about 14% of Americans smoke. Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the U.S., accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, according to the federal government. In Connecticut, the latest figures show about 12% of the population smokes.
Cigarette smoking was highest among people aged 25–44 and 45–64, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking was lowest among people aged 18-24.
While smoking has decreased across the country, there are concerns that vaping has increased, and Johnson noted that research has shown people who vape are more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future.
In 2018, 14.9% of adults had used an e-cigarette and 3.2% were current users, the CDC reported. The prevalence of adults who had ever used an e-cigarette and were current users was highest among men, non-Hispanic white adults, and those aged 18–24.
The CDC says e-cigarettes are unsafe. Most contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development into the early to mid-20s. Also, e-cigarettes can contain other harmful substances, according to the agency.
Jesse Leavenworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org