“Be Free in 2017!”is a new initiative underway on Cheyney University’s campus to promote healthy lifestyle choices and to encourage members of the campus community to avoid smoking and tobacco use on University premises. Through a partnership with Main Line Health and a grant from Truth Initiative HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), a Cheyney University Task Force has been formed to implement the initiative.
Thom Nixon, Cheyney’s Director of Judicial Affairs, heads the Task Force. He notes “Our efforts are to promote healthy lifestyle choices, and to encourage members of our community to avoid smoking and tobacco.”
Task Force members recently hosted a lunch time cookout to introduce the program to Cheyney faculty and staff. Student Activities Director LaMott Moore provided background music while Task Force members promoted the benefits of a smoke-free campus to Cheyney employees. The only smoke visible came from the grill as Thompson Hospitality staff served burgers with all the ‘fixins’.
When students return to classes in late August, more events are planned to promote the initiative. The project scope will address use of all tobacco products including cigarettes, cigars, electronic cigarettes, snuff and chewing tobacco on the entire campus by December 2017. Currently, smoking is prohibited inside any building on campus. Supported by a Truth Initiative Grant, the program is intended to benefit the health of the entire campus community.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the US, with cigarette smoking killing more than 480,000 Americans every year. In addition, menthol flavoring in tobacco products reportedly makes it easier for kids to start smoking, and harder for smokers to quit. Studies show that the amounts of tar, nicotine and other poisons are 30-70% higher in inhaled menthol cigarettes than non-mentholated cigarettes. According to statistics, African Americans smoke menthol cigarettes at nearly three times the rate as whites, have a more difficult time quitting, and are more likely to die from smoking related illnesses. African Americans make up most of Cheyney’s student body.
Barbara Siso of Main Line Health will help Cheyney implement the initiative. “My job at Main Line Health, which is state funded, requires me to partner with worksites and provide technical assistance in implementing a policy or strengthen existing ones. I also provide cessation programs, work with townships/boroughs in implementing a smoke free ordinance in their playgrounds/recreation open spaces, and recruit youth in a statewide program supported by the American Lung Association to encourage their peers not to start smoking, and encourage those who do smoke to quit,” Siso says.
“Last spring, we did a survey on tobacco policy awareness and attitudes about smoking but I don’t think that gave us a clear picture on who smokes or uses tobacco products on our campus,” explains Cheyney’s Director of Judicial Affairs, Thom Nixon. He hopes the new education and prevention programs will give the Task Force a better understanding of who smokes in the University community.
The Truth Initiative Grant has reportedly helped bring teen cigarette use down from 23% in 2000 to 7% in 2015. Cheyney is one of 33 HBCUs nationwide to participate in the program which will also offer free access, through Main Line Health, to the SmokeFREE program to help people modify their behavior by addressing the physical and psychological aspects that lead to addiction.
In addition to Nixon and Siso, Cheyney’s Smoke Free Task Force is comprised of Psychology professor, Dr. Hazel Spears, Cheyney staff members Curtis Word, Sharon Thorn, Lisa Blount and Nancy Fraley, Cheyney’s physician, Dr. Julia Adams, and students Antalicia Yelverton, Nehemiah Revel, and Daivins Bastill.