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December 10, 2015

Pitt group explores smoke-free campus

Could Pitt be on its way to joining the ranks of tobacco-free or smoke-free campuses?

A small “tobacco-free campus” task force centered in the Graduate School of Public Health has reached out to the University Senate, Staff Association Council (SAC) and the Student Government Board (SGB) for input as it considers what issues must be addressed in order to consider proposing a change to Pitt’s smoking policy.


These signs would be a thing of the past if Pitt joined the ranks of tobacco-free campuses.

Pitt’s current policy, revised in 2007, prohibits smoking inside all University-owned and -leased facilities and vehicles, as well as within 15 feet of the main entrances to buildings and HVAC intake vents.

Donald Burke, dean of public health, said internal discussions were prompted by faculty and students who expressed concern about smoking outside the public health school and elsewhere on campus.

Burke said they approached him with the view that “as public health, we should see that the University does something about it.”

In recent months, discussions were broadened to include other areas in the Schools of the Health Sciences, including representatives from Pitt’s medical school, Burke said.

“We started with health sciences to talk about what was possible,” the dean said, adding there is strong awareness that any action “needs to be an initiative that has strong involvement and support from students, staff and faculty.”

Senate, SAC and SGB representatives were invited to the task force’s Nov. 24 meeting.

Citing the preliminary nature of the discussions, Burke wouldn’t elaborate on specific motivations or what direction any changes to Pitt’s policy might take.

“It’s nothing about what I want or what public health wants, it’s what’s best for the University — how the issues are weighed and valued by the University community,” he said. “It will be driven by the faculty, staff and students and we’ll see how that goes,” he told the University Times.

“The representatives themselves will decide the right way to take this,” the dean said. “If there’s enthusiasm for this, it’ll go forward. I hope that will happen.”


In a meeting of Faculty Assembly last week, University Senate President Frank Wilson said University Senate director Lori Molinaro represented the faculty group at last month’s tobacco-free campus meeting, adding that the Senate benefits and welfare committee will take the lead moving forward.

“The Senate committee will be seriously considering this,” Wilson said. “There will be a report coming to us,” he said, offering no timetable, but predicting “a lot of discussion and debate.”

Senate benefits and welfare committee chair Sachin Velankar told the University Times that Angie Riccelli plans to attend the tobacco-free campus group’s Dec. 17 meeting.

Benefits and welfare will take up the issue during the spring term, Velankar said. The committee’s next meeting will be in January, but a date has not been set, he said.


Representing SAC at the November tobacco-free campus meeting was Pam Rikstad, a member of SAC’s health, safety, IT and transportation committee.

She told the University Times that she would raise the issue at a future SAC meeting, adding that she will convey any staff concerns to the tobacco-free campus committee.

Rikstad said she also plans to reach out to staff organizations on Pitt’s regional campuses to gather input on how changes to Pitt’s current smoking policy might affect the University’s non-urban locations.


The formation of the task force has re-ignited students’ interest in pursuing action. SGB board member Jack Heidecker, who attended the November meeting, said the issue “has been on our radar since last year,” adding that the formation of the task force has moved the issue off the back burner. Heidecker said he hopes a proposal could be brought to SGB sometime in the spring term.

Among students “there’s a lot of enthusiasm about making Pitt tobacco-free,” he said. In spring 2014, SGB gauged students’ opinions in an online survey. And signatures are being collected through a petition in Student Health, Heidecker said.

“It’s definitely something people at the University are enthusiastic about. It will bring Pitt in line with a lot of other schools,” he said.


Tobacco-free and smoke-free campus efforts are on the rise nationwide. In response to a Surgeon General’s report that showed that 99 percent of smokers began using tobacco before age 26, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2012 launched a Tobacco-free College Campus Initiative (TFCCI) to promote tobacco-free policies at institutions of higher education.

According to TFCCI, the number of campuses in the United States with comprehensive smoke-free policies has more than doubled since the initiative’s inception.

Burke said the public health task force is availing itself of TFCCI resources, but is not formally aligned with the initiative.

The American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation (ANRF) reports that as of Oct. 2, 2015, there are at least 1,620 smoke-free campuses in the United States. Of those, 1,130 are 100 percent tobacco-free and 769 forbid the use of e-cigarettes.

Some states also have taken action against smoking on college campuses. Arkansas, Illinois and Louisiana require public college and university campuses to be 100 percent smoke-free, and Iowa requires both public and private campuses to be smoke-free, according to ANRF.

—Kimberly K. Barlow     

Filed under: Feature,Volume 48 Issue 8

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