Task force to address smokers

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The legendary Camel logo burns out of sight as the last drag is taken from the cigarette.

Casually the butt is tossed aside into the slush where it joins a variety of other now-indistinguishable brands of cigarettes as the student rushes inside to class.

While a finished cigarette may be left behind after use, the effects that each one has on a person often linger throughout a smoker’s lifetime. Despite the well-known health risks associated with smoking, the rate of smoking in Maine’s schools continues to rise.

A task force created at USM will address smoking issues on campus. The ultimate goal of the task force is to make USM a smoke-free campus.

The task force, made up of USM staff members and faculty, initially met with Linda Gambel, the former project director for the University of Maine at Farmington Partnership For A Tobacco-Free Maine Project and Phyllis Wolfe, a lead organizer for Tobacco Free Portland, in the fall of 1999.

Some members of the task force are passionate about addressing the issue.

“With the support of UMF as well as forming an alliance with the City of Portland Public Health Division, we have the means to properly educate students about smoking,” said Pamela Hewett a professional nurse at University Health Services. The project however, is still in the planning stages.

Since 1991 Maine has received a tobacco settlement each year, and has requested proposals from organizations that aim to discourage tobacco use throughout the state. State officials are particularly concerned Maine’s schools.

The University of Maine at Farmington has already received a special grant and has successfully created a project to help students make healthy choices regarding smoking. The project provided a springboard for USM, which hopes for similar success in developing its own project.

Among the topics discussed were how USM planned to educate the students about the effects of smoking and what kinds of services were presently offered to combat the soaring rate of college smokers.

Last fall USM connected with the City of Portland’s Public Health Division, a lead organization with the funds to help with the tasks force’s goals and to look at what cessation services USM had to offer the students for smoking.

There was a large response by faculty and staff to the project, but interest hasn’t spread to students.

Unlike UMF, which has a group of students that started a grassroots organization before funds for their new anti-smoking project became available, USM students don’t seem as concerned about smoking issues on campus.

“I’m not so much interested in education about the effects of smoking, I know the effects smoking can have on my life,” said Brad Gabhardt, junior business major and smoker of nine years. “I would be interested in a free patch or some other methods for quitting cigarettes.”

Others see the irony in their smoking habit.

Junior accounting major Aimee Cheverie said when her friends began to smoke the smell made her sick. Now she is a smoker herself.

“Now I’m getting sick because I’m smoking, that’s kind of funny,” said Cheverie.

The average age of first-time tobacco users is between the ages of 11 and 15. The younger a person is when they first try tobacco, the more likely they will become heavy smokers creating serious problems for teens and young adults who desperately want to quit.

Of people between the ages of 18 and 30, Maine has one of the highest smoking rates in the nation. A local organization called Tobacco Free Portland recognizes that many of these people are students and the group is using some of the state’s grant money to provide support to local schools like USM who are working towards smoke-free environments.

“College students are one of the most vulnerable groups of people to start smoking,” said Melissa Vanorman, a health educator at UMF. “They are at the youngest legal age to smoke in Maine, which puts them in a higher bracket of people who will start smoking.”

According to Vanorman 28 percent of U.S. college students currently smoke cigarettes or use other forms of tobacco.

The next step for the USM task force will be to meet as a group and work with student life to discuss smoking policies on campus.

Current policies allow some students to smoke on designated floors in some dorms. “Back when I was a freshman, I smoked in my dorm which definitely added to my addiction,” said Cheverie.

At the heart of the task force’s mission is decreasing the risks to non-smokers, as they often pass by smokers on their way to class. For every eight people who die from smoke-related illnesses, one person dies from secondhand smoke.

“There is certainly a concern for everyone on campus regardless if they smoke or not,” said Hewett. “We really need a health educator on staff so that people don’t put others at risk.”

Along with a health educator, the task force hopes to integrate tobacco education into the curriculum which will include information on the business of the tobacco industry as well as its negative impact on society and medical costs associated with long-term smokers.

USM Counseling Services currently offers counseling for smokers who wish to quit cigarettes and other addictive tobacco products, or those who are simply looking for information.

Staff writer Ryan Milliken can be contacted at: [email protected]

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