Wellness Center’s Smoke Out event to prepare students for smoke-free campus policy

By Mara Shapiro

The University’s Wellness Center and Colleges Against Cancer will participate in their annual Great American Smoke Out, an event created by the American Cancer Society, on Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The organizations will feature booths to educate staff and students about the risks of smoking and how they can quit.

The Wellness Center will have four booths set up on the Main Quad, Beckman Atrium, Ikenberry Dining Hall and CRCE. The registered student organization Colleges Against Cancer will also have a booth on the Main Quad. At the Wellness Center booths, students can also talk to experts about cessation, or quitting, and conquering cravings with pet therapy and aromatherapy. They also can learn about the smoke-free campus policy and receive pamphlets on campus cessation resources. The center will also pass out free quit kits and give students special treats — such as bubble gum, suckers, bubbles and Chinese yo-yos — if they trade in their cigarettes.

Wellness Center Director Michele Guerra said the Smoke Out will try to help students and staff who are trying to quit, as well as those who will need assistance when smoke-free campus policy begins Jan. 1.

“(We hold the Smoke Out) to encourage people who are ready to quit and people who are not ready to make the commitment and want to try for a day,” she said. “It can also be helpful in advance for the smoke-free campus policy.” 

Public health, community health and kinesiology students as well as other various University staff and students will be volunteering at the Wellness Center booths. 

Colleges Against Cancer will have its own activities on the Quad. There will be cigarette ingredients written in chalk on Quad’s sidewalks and Smoke Out posters to show support for being smoke-free. Students will also be asked to participate in their #Iquit movement on social media. 

Guerra explained that college students have different smoking patterns than adults. She said students typically do not smoke daily and will usually smoke to relieve stress. According to statistics done at the University, just under 25 percent of students say they currently use cigarettes, a little under the national average. 

However, while Guerra acknowledges that students do smoke to relieve stress, it is the time after college graduation that is pivotal in a smoker’s life.

“As soon as a person is out of school, it is a critical time in life whether you’ll become an addicted smoker or non-addicted smoker,” Guerra said.

Sarah Sommer, graduate student in AHS, has been helping to organize the Smoke Out event since August. 

“It’s a great way to learn about the smoke-free policy. We’re not trying to tell people to quit; we just want people to know about resources and to be able to interact with experts. Even if people don’t smoke they can come and interact,” Sommer said. 

Sommer also said the Wellness Center will be holding a whiteboard project at the Beckman Institute, Ikenberry Dining Hall and CRCE. Students can write on dry erase boards about what being smoke free means to them, and volunteers will take pictures of students holding their whiteboards. The photos will be put into a slide show that will be featured on the smoke-free campus website. 

“It shows support for people trying to quit,” Sommer said.

According to Guerra, students and staff can stop by the Wellness Center, McKinley Health Center’s counseling department and McKinley’s Alcohol and Other Drug department for resources. Students can also use the Illinois Tobacco Quit Line at 1-866-QUIT-YES.

The Illinois Tobacco Quit Line combines counseling with nicotine replacement therapy. Guerra said that studies have shown that combining both physical and mental therapy makes quitting easier. The free program is staffed by registered nurses, respiratory therapists and certified tobacco treatment specialists. 

Guerra said that students do need more education when it comes to learning about tobacco and smoking risks. 

“Tobacco is a highly addictive drug, and students need more education on the addictive nature of tobacco. It’s not wise to think they can control it,” Guerra said. “They also don’t realize the dangerous level of risk associated with second hand smoke.”

One of the risks that comes with smoking is lung cancer. Kaitlyn Kestel, Colleges Against Cancer president and senior in AHS, explained that while not everyone who contracts lung cancer smokes, it is definitely a contributing factor. 

“Lung cancer is the deadliest form of cancer. It has the most deaths, but it is also the most preventable,” Kestel said. 

Guerra said that The Wellness Center have added more Smoke Out activities this year due to the event occurring about six weeks prior to the introduction of the smoke-free campus policy.

The smoke-free campus policy deems it unacceptable to smoke cigarettes, cigars, E-cigarettes or any tobacco or nicotine products on campus property. The old policy did not allow students or staff to smoke in public buildings or within 25 feet of a University building. With the policy enacted, staff and students will not be able to smoke in common spaces, such as Green Street or the Main Quad. Guerra also said that it is not permissible for persons to smoke in their cars on campus grounds.

Guerra understands that the transition may be hard for students, but she also stated that statistically it would be harder for staff to quit because they are more than likely already addicted to nicotine or tobacco consumption. 

“Tobacco use is very personal; quitting is very personal. You have to find out what works for you,” Guerra said.

Guerra said that the Wellness Center is currently recruiting and interviewing smoke-free campus policy ambassadors, who will be available to talk to staff and students about the policy and answer questions throughout the year. If staff and students do not comply with the smoke-free campus policy, ambassadors can report them and disciplinary action will be taken. 

Guerra also stated smoking-cessation products, such as a patch, lozenges or gum, will soon be available throughout campus. The locations are yet to be determined.

“It’s a huge win for anyone who is a health advocate against cancer. I’m really excited to see it pass,” Kestel said. “It allows for cancer protection and keeps campus healthy. And I don’t have to walk through clouds of smoke while going to class.”

For more information on the smoke-free campus policy, students can go to go.illinois.edu/smokefree. 

Mara can be reached at [email protected]