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Mike DeBernardo, KSL TV

Newly dubbed 'tobacco-free' U. will begin enforcing violations next summer

By Ben Lockhart  |  Posted Aug 21st, 2017 @ 10:42pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah has declared itself a tobacco-free campus, and rules enforcing that mandate will be enforced beginning next summer.

The designation was approved by the Academic Senate on May 1 and officially bestowed in July. But the U. will not implement enforcement of new tobacco prohibitions until July 1, 2018, following a yearlong campaign to educate people on campus about the change, Robin Marcus, chief wellness officer for University of Utah Health, said Monday.

Under the rule, faculty and students will be prohibited from smoking or using chewing tobacco, electronic cigarettes and all other recreational "nicotine-delivery products" on any property "owned, leased or controlled" by the University of Utah.

Under the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act — in effect since 2006 — the U. already prohibits smoking indoors.

In a release, the U. touted the new rule as a "student-led initiative."

“This rule will make the U. a healthier place to work and gain an education,” Matt Miller, vice president of the Associated Students of the University of Utah, said in a statement.

The ban includes hospitals and clinics, athletics facilities, campus housing and university vehicles. The rules clarifies that "areas of the University of Utah Research Park that are owned by or leased to private entities" are exempt, unless they are "used for university programs or university employees."

It's possible exceptions will be carved out in the next year for existing smoking areas that benefit hospital employees, patients and their families, said Robin Marcus, chief wellness officer for University of Utah Health.

"There are currently some outdoor areas that are designated up around the hospital. Whether these go completely away is something we will be looking at in this implementation period," Marcus told the Deseret News.

University employees and students who are found in violation of the new tobacco rules, and have already received a verbal and written warning for previous violations, will be subject to a $25 fine. Following that penalty, future violations would be based on "an escalating schedule of fines not to exceed a maximum fine of $500," according to the rule.

The rule explicitly states no employee can be fired and no student can be suspended or expelled as a result of violating the rule. However, those who contract with the university "may risk termination of their contracts with the university" if they don't enforce the rule with their employees who work on campus, the rule explains.

Marcus said the rule is not designed to get people to be confrontational, but rather to inform the appropriate supervisor if there is a concern.

"We will encourage people to not confront others who are smoking or who are using tobacco on campus," she said.

Marcus said the university will engage in a strenuous awareness campaign before the new rule's implementation, including social media, town hall forums and signage on campus.

"We're going to do everything we can to let people know that we're becoming tobacco free. ... We don't want to surprise anybody," she said.

Marcus was asked why smokeless tobacco products were included in the rule.

"The best answer I can give you is ... (that) our purpose is really to promote a healthy environment. ... It's a health issue for us and it does go beyond just the smoke in the air," she said.

Exceptions on banned products include products intended to help with "tobacco cessation," including nicotine gum and nicotine patches. The rule also specifies that the use of any kind of tobacco for "cultural ceremonies" is an exception to the ban.

The rule likewise allows for tobacco use in research, as well as the use of "e-cigarettes or other forms of smokeless tobacco" in "on-stage artistic performances."

Additionally over the next year, the university will promote its multiple programs aimed to help any students or faculty who are interested in quitting tobacco.

Dr. John Sweetenham, senior director of clinical affairs and executive medical director of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, signaled support of the aspiration for a tobacco-free campus.

“Our goal has always been to support the health and well-being of all who visit the university,” Sweetenham said. “Tobacco use remains a leading cause of preventable illness and death, and removing it from our campus takes us much closer to that goal.”

An ad hoc committee in the Academic Senate will review the rule before the effective enforecment date next year in order to "review the rule, ensure that it is fair and balanced and to recommend any changes," according to the U.'s release Monday.

Marcus said the university will welcome additional input on the details of the rule in the coming months.

"We really want this to be a positive experience and we want to take that time to get input from a variety of different people," she said. "We've already got a lot of input from students, faculty and staff, but we need to add input from people who provide patient care (and) more faculty and staff that haven't been involved."

Ben Lockhart
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