LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico State University could have a new smoking and tobacco use policy by next summer.
The effort to develop a policy for one of the state’s largest universities stems from a memorial bill passed during the last legislative session. It asked that the governing bodies of every public postsecondary educational institution in New Mexico implement a tobacco-free campus policy by July 1.
The initiative at NMSU would ultimately have to be approved by the Board of Regents.
Tilahun Adera, dean of NMSU’s College of Health and Social Services, said more than 1,100 colleges and universities across the U.S. already have smoke-free campuses and 800 campuses have a tobacco-free policy.
“This growing trend is due to the increasing recognition of the health hazards of tobacco products, including the fact that cigarette smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States and is responsible for one out of every five deaths,” Adera said.
According to Senate Memorial 63, nearly one-fourth of New Mexico high school students and young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 smoke, a rate significantly higher than the national rate for the age group.
The memorial also notes that policies creating smoke-free environments have been shown to decrease youth smoking.
The University of New Mexico adopted a policy in 2009 that prohibits smoking and the use of tobacco products except in designated smoking areas. That policy applies to cigarettes, cigars, pipes, smokeless tobacco, electronic cigarettes and other tobacco products, according to the university’s policies and procedures manual.
To facilitate a policy change at NMSU and Dona Ana Community College, the university’s Department of Public Health Sciences has received a $123,000 grant from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation.
“Tobacco-free policies are effective in decreasing smoking rates and preventing the initiation of tobacco use,” said Jana Renner, the foundation’s associate program officer. “New Mexico State University’s effort to create a tobacco-free campus complements this goal by protecting students, faculty and staff from the effects of secondhand smoke and promoting healthy social norms and behaviors.”
Supporters said they plan to first increase awareness around tobacco health risks and build support among the community and the university’s administration. The next step will be assessing current attitudes and behavior and use of tobacco products among NMSU students, faculty and staff.
“If the policy is adopted by the university, then at some point it will go into the student handbook,” said Susan Wilson, an associate public health sciences professor. “But we’re going to make sure that people are well-advised, well in advance of any needed behavioral changes.”
NMSU currently has a policy that complies with the state’s Clean Indoor Act, prohibiting smoking in all buildings and within 25 feet of entrances, exits and vehicles, as well as during some organized outdoor events on NMSU property.
The new policy, which will be self-enforced and peer reported, would forbid any use of tobacco on campus.