AUSTIN— All 14 institutions of The University of Texas System will be tobacco free by the end of this academic year, making it the first public university system in Texas to become fully tobacco free. It will also become the largest single employer in Texas to prohibit tobacco use in the workplace.
Tobacco free policies vary somewhat by campus, but every policy prohibits all forms of tobacco use on the grounds and in the buildings of every facility affiliated with the university. Every campus is also providing prevention and cessation services to students and staff.
The goal is to establish healthier environments for students, faculty, staff, patients and visitors, recognizing that tobacco use is the single greatest preventable cause of premature death and disease in Texas and the nation. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, tobacco is responsible for more than 28,000 deaths and $18 billion in tobacco-related disease costs in the state.
“The four top causes of death in Texas are heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory tract disease and stroke—all of which can be the direct result of tobacco use,” said UT System Chief Medical Officer David Lakey, M.D. “By reducing tobacco use, we can have a huge positive impact on the lives of our students, employees and communities. Furthermore, we can significantly reduce health care costs.”
Going tobacco-free Systemwide is part of an “Eliminate Tobacco Use Initiative” created by Lakey and Ernest Hawk, M.D., vice president and head of UT MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences. The initiative just published its first impact report, which details the 18-month evolution toward a fully tobacco free system.
More than 228,000 students and 100,000 faculty and staff learn and work on UT System campuses. Studies show that prohibiting tobacco use in the workplace helps significantly reduce the number of smokers and the amount of smoking done by those who continue to smoke. Tobacco prevention programs also are effective deterrents, which is important because approximately 90 percent of daily smokers report they first used cigarettes before they were 19 years of age.
“It is an extremely important focus for action across the UT System to promote the health and welfare of our students, faculty, staff, patients and communities,” said Hawk. “Preventing tobacco use on our campuses serves three high-priority goals: improving the health of our students and employees, protecting nonsmokers from risks associated with second-hand smoke and reducing the financial burden on taxpayers.”
An “Eliminate Tobacco Use Summit” was held in February 2016 to bring together leaders from each of the UT institutions to share policies and resources for tobacco cessation, prevention and control. Representatives from other higher education, health care, nonprofit and government organizations also attended. Following the summit, each institution developed its own comprehensive plan to improve its tobacco control policies and strategies. In addition to implementing policies to prohibit tobacco use, the institutions have created programs to help with prevention and cessation efforts.
The summit was developed through collaborations between Lakey, Hawk and others within MD Anderson’s EndTobacco program — a science-based initiative built on best practices for tobacco control recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. EndTobacco was launched in 2014 within the cancer prevention and control platform, part of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program™, an effort to dramatically accelerate the pace of converting scientific discoveries into clinical and population-oriented advances that significantly reduce cancer deaths.
The success of the Eliminate Tobacco Use Initiative sets an important example for other colleges and universities in Texas, as well as for colleges and university systems across the country. Lakey and Hawk hope the initiative expands to other university systems within and beyond Texas.
The Initiative is hosting its second annual summit on April 17-18 in Austin. This year’s summit is open to the public.
Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking basic, applied and clinical research, and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States. With 14 institutions and an enrollment of more than 228,000, the UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates almost two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public institutions in Texas. The UT System’s operating budget for FY 2017 is $17.9 billion, including $3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With more than 20,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates and many members of the National Academies – and nearly 80,000 health care professionals, researchers, student advisors and support staff, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.