U students, faculty help clear the air

The University of Minnesota is renewing focus on the smoke-free campus initiative.

by Isabella Murray

Chewing gum and a friendly face could be what it takes to get students to curb their smoking habit — at least that’s the hope for Share the Air Ambassadors.
At the end of February, the group of students, staff and faculty started passing out packs of gum and encouraging campus smokers to comply with the school’s tobacco-free policy. 
The ambassadors are an extension of the Share the Air initiative. Since July 2014, University facilities, buildings and grounds on four out of five campuses have officially become smoke- and tobacco-free.
Dave Golden, director of public health for Boynton Health Service, said the purpose of ambassadors isn’t to punish student smokers. Instead, he said, their job is to provide information about cessation counseling and other Boynton resources. 
“There are no punitive intentions,” said Emily Anderson, a college campus specialist for the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota. “The main aspect of this initiative is to educate people about the cessation resources.”
The 10 ambassadors who make rounds on campus are mostly students but include a few faculty member volunteers as well, said Emmalynn Bauer, a University public relations consultant. 
The ambassadors are trained to approach smokers in a non-confrontational way, and they use a script to relay the information on helpful resources effectively. The ambassadors receive Amazon gift cards for volunteering. 
According to Boynton’s College Student Health Survey, 13.4 percent of University students used tobacco last year, down from 15.4 percent of students in 2013. 
Though these numbers indicate the Share the Air campaign is effective, Golden said, smokers continue to congregate in “hotspots” around campus — where he said Boynton employees see more cigarette butts.
While doing a walkthrough around campus on Monday, Golden noticed that these hotspots are located around the health sciences area and buildings on the West Bank campus, specifically by Blegen Hall and Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
“Support for the nonsmoking policy is very strong, and awareness of the policy is really high,” Golden said, “The thing is occasionally folks just need a little reminder.”
Those involved in the initiative hope that it will further curb campus smoking. 
“It’s a visibility thing. It’s just another way to show that the University is taking this policy seriously,” Anderson said. “It’s not just on paper; it’s proactive.”