Smoking continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, resulting in more than 480,000 deaths each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Although adult and youth smoking has continued to decline over the decades, the smoking prevalence among Vermont college students (15%) is significantly higher than the US average for college students nationwide (9%). Surveys of college student behavior and research studies suggest that many college students initiate tobacco use while in college and continued use while there can determine whether or not someone will become a lifelong smoker. For that reason, in the summer of 2017, Vermont Law School student Nico Lustig reached out to the Vermont Tobacco Free College Campus Coordinator, Mariah Sanderson, for support to help her college adopt a tobacco-free campus policy. Nico had begun work on campus to encourage a change in policy, however, initially there was reluctance from the administration and student body to make changes to the policy, citing an individual’s “right to smoke.”
When asked why the issue of a tobacco-free campus at Vermont Law School was so important to her, Nico said, “My aunt (who was a long-time smoker) died from lung cancer during my first weeks of law school. At the same moment that I heard about my aunt dying, I was sitting in the library with the windows open. Second-hand smoke from outside of the library was wafting into through the window. Disappointed and overwhelmed by the volume of smoking on the campus, I wrote my first email to Dean Shirley Jefferson…to help move Vermont Law School toward a smoke- and tobacco-free environment.”
Nico continued to work with Mariah Sanderson to provide information for school administration and students about the benefits of a 100% Tobacco-free campus, including a presentation to the Student Bar Association. Their goal was to make the campus aware of the growing support for this policy nationally and statewide, and the benefits and resources to make the change easy for their campus. After continued follow up emails with resources and support and a dogged determination from Ms. Lustig to make change happen on the campus, the Student Bar Association finally voted on a resolution in April of 2018 to improve tobacco policy on campus! Ms.Sanderson shared resources with campus contacts about cessation supports and how to order free signage. Ms. Lustig continued to follow up with campus administration to encourage movement on policy change and promotion on campus and a new policy was implemented at the beginning of this year! Instead of the previous 6 centrally located smoking areas, Vermont Law School now has only one “smoking area” on campus that is away from buildings and pedestrian traffic! The campus also now has signage that reminds people not to smoke within 50 feet of buildings!
We are enthusiastic about the increased commitment to health and wellness at Vermont Law School. Often having one key community change advocate is what can make or break a policy change effort. The passion and commitment from VLS student Nico Lustig was key to creating the momentum needed to make this happen on their campus. When asked if she has noticed anything different on campus since the policy took effect, Nico stated, “People are no longer smoking all over campus or chewing tobacco during classes. I’ve heard more people willing to talk about the amount of smoking that takes place on campus, and I have heard people talk about enjoying the campus quad more. We now have 802 Quits posters up throughout the campus halls, and more members of the administration are turning to the external resources to help students cope with stress on campus. Overall, the school is getting better all the time.”