In just a few months, the University of Missouri will jump aboard the no smoking train and institute a policy essentially making the entire campus smoke-free (http://mizzouweekly.missouri.edu/archive/2011/32-26/smoking-ban-to-expand/index.php).
On a personal level and with opinions about the policy’s enforceability aside, I think this is great because I like smelling smoke about as much as I like smelling vomit.
However, according to our textbook (Mr. Gordis), “A major role of epidemiology is to serve as a basis for developing policies that affect human health.”
So, on an epidemiological side this policy is…well, let me think that one out.
The effects of smoking have been beaten to death. See http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/ETS or http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/secondhandsmoke.html or http://www.no-smoke.org/getthefacts.php?id=13 or http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/secondhand-smoke/CC00023 or…need I go on?
Basically, anyone with half a brain and a little education knows smoking is bad for you.
So, the University’s decision to ban smoking on campus (except in parking lots and on the very tippy tops of garages) was obviously based on some research. I don’t have an exact number but I would bet that hundreds of studies have been conducted over the years to look at the effects of smoking and secondhand smoke and this policy is a reaction to those studies.
However, the goal is to decrease the rates of smoking on campus, and I’m not so sure how effective it will be (http://www.themaneater.com/stories/2011/4/12/next-step-mus-smoke-free-policy-approaching/). The article I just linked says surveys have shown that smoking rates increase in college, and apparently many other campuses have already gone smoke-free, but it doesn’t mention anything about research showing that making a smoke-free campus decreases the prevalence or incidence of smoking among college students.
Just a reminder, Gordis says that, “a major role in epidemiology is to serve as a basis for developing policies.” Sounds like epi is still needed in this case to tell us if this really decreases smoking.
A quick internet search reveals some statistics of smoking rates on campuses where no smoking policies have already been developed (http://www.lungusa.org/stop-smoking/tobacco-control-advocacy/reports-resources/tobacco-policy-trend-reports/college-report.pdf) but I don’t see any real research studies. As I now know from class, just because a prevalence rate decreases, that doesn’t mean it can be attributed to the factor in question.
In fact, the article I just referenced admits that more research about how to target smoking rates on college campuses is needed. While this method of making campuses smoke-free may be effective, there isn’t enough hardcore research to prove anything just yet.
We need to know, from a reputable study, if other campuses can attribute their decreases in smoking rates to having a smoke-free campus and we need to know if the study/studies were generalizable (meaning the results can be extended beyond just that one campus). If this doesn’t really help, we probably shouldn’t be using a bunch of money to institute it.
So, once again, on a personal level, I’m excited about the prospect of a smoke-free campus because that means more clean air for me! But on an epidemiological level, I’m not sure I’m completely convinced this will be effective at getting people to stop smoking. However, since it’s already been approved, let’s hope it is!
If nothing else, it’ll help those of us who don’t want to smell smoke breathe a little easier :)
Gordis, Leon. (2009). Epidemiology 4 ed.. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.