Last month, Truth Initiative® and the CVS Health Foundation joined forces to work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and community colleges students and administrators. Through a nation-wide campaign, the organizations advocate for, adopt and implement 100 percent smoke and tobacco free campus policies.
“With 99 percent of smokers starting before age 27, college campuses are critical to preventing young adults from starting tobacco use, aiding current smokers in quitting and reducing exposure to secondhand smoke for all,” said Robin Koval, CEO and President of Truth Initiative, the national public health organization that directs and funds the truth campaign.
“Our partnership aims to counteract the decades of profiling of African Americans and low income communities by Big Tobacco. We are thrilled to be working with the CVS Health Foundation to make smoking and tobacco use a thing of the past on HBCU and community college campuses.”
In 2015, 33 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) convened and launched the Tobacco-Free HBCU Campus Initiative, a grant program that awarded funding to 135 colleges. The first-of-its-kind, this initiative works with HBCUs to change knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about tobacco use on their campuses.
Tobacco is the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S. Each year, approximately 47,000 African Americans die from smoking-related disease. While the overall use of cigarettes among youth in the U.S. has declined, smoking among ethnic minorities is still prevalent.
In major cities like Washington D.C., there are up to 10 times more tobacco advertisements in African-American neighborhoods than in other neighborhoods. Other research has shown that low-income neighborhoods are more likely to have tobacco retailers near schools than other neighborhoods.
Led by former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, the initiative helped HBCUs establish comprehensive tobacco-free policies on their campuses.
In prepared remarks during the launch two years ago, Benjamin stated “For decades, the tobacco industry has targeted minority communities, particularly African Americans, with intense advertising and promotional efforts. “As a result of this investment, African Americans suffer the greatest burden of tobacco-related mortality of any ethnic or racial group in the U.S.”
The “truth x CVS Health Foundation” tobacco-free campus initiative is part of CVS Health’s Be The First campaign, the company’s five year, $50 million commitment to helping deliver the nation’s first tobacco-free generation. CVS Health and the CVS Health Foundation have set actionable and measurable goals for Be The First, including a doubling of the number of tobacco-free educational institutions in the United States.
One of the latest truth® campaigns, #STOPPROFILING, underscores that tobacco use is more than a public health issue—it’s a social justice issue. For years, African-Americans, low-income neighborhoods, LGBTQ communities and other populations have been disproportionally targeted with tobacco marketing.
“Today’s young people are a generation with an unyielding commitment to diversity, inclusivity and equality, and that includes making sure health benefits are equally distributed across ethnic and socioeconomic classes,” said David Casey, Chief Diversity Officer at CVS Health.
In addition to supporting Truth Initiative through technical assistance and support for 42 HBCUs and 64 community colleges, to date, 50 colleges have gone smoke- or tobacco-free (40 community colleges and 10 HBCU’s).
Advancing campuses policy efforts, the CVS Health Foundation has established a collaborative relationship with the American Cancer Society to help 125 colleges advocate for, adopt and implement 100 percent smoke- and tobacco-free campuses.
In a released statement last November, American Cancer Society CEO, Gary M. Reedy, stated “With our partners at CVS Health, we are excited to support the efforts of many dedicated students, faculty and staff to make their campuses smoke- and tobacco-free using proven strategies that will also reduce tobacco use among students."
"To be successful in creating a tobacco-free generation, it is important that we prevent and eliminate lethal and addictive tobacco use among college students."
Students, faculty and staff at the schools across the nation are charged with developing a campus task force, assessing tobacco use on their campus and developing public-education campaigns to support comprehensive tobacco- and smoke-free polices on the campus.
“We’re proud that the CVS Health Foundation is working with Truth Initiative to help HBCUs and community colleges adopt tobacco-free campus policies,” Casey said. “Helping more colleges and universities go tobacco-free is an important step in achieving our shared goal of helping to deliver the first tobacco-free generation.”
The number of smoke- and tobacco-free colleges in the U.S. has more than tripled since 2010, when 446 campuses had adopted smoke- or tobacco-free policies. Today that number stands at 1,577 campuses, yet the majority of the 105 federally-recognized HBCUs in the U.S. do not have comprehensive smoke- or tobacco-free policies to protect their students and faculty from the dangers of tobacco use and second-hand smoke.
Kristen Terzakian, Assistant Director of Community Engagement based out of Truth Initiative’s D.C. office, supports colleges across the country. While in Mississippi supporting Tougaloo College, Terzakian believes tobacco companies disproportionately target black communities. She she says it’s important to not only stop tobacco use on campus, but also help students to quit.
"We want to clear the air of second hand smoke have the campuses be clean from tobacco litter and create an environment where smoking is not the norm and to promote an environment to help people quit," Terzakian said speaking with Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s, Alexis Ware.
In Pennsylvania, Cheyney University is actively engaged with its "Be Free in 2017!” initiative. Through a partnership with Main Line Health, and a grant from Truth Initiative, Cheyney’s Tobacco Free Task Force guided students to be selected as a winner of the truth® x College Art Campaign. Later this week the unit will celebrate the unveiling of the decorative bench on campus.
Stats on Smoking
- Teen smoking of traditional cigarettes in the U.S. reached a historic low of six percent in 2016, but tobacco still remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
- Cigarettes cause over 480,000 deaths annually in the U.S.
- Tobacco kills up to half of its users.
- LGBTQ young adults, ages 18-24, are nearly twice as likely to smoke as their straight peers.
- Individuals with mental illness account for up to 46 percent of cigarettes sold in the U.S.
- People living below the poverty level in the U.S. are nearly twice as likely to smoke, compared to those at, or above, the poverty level.
- Seventy-six-percent of Americans think youth smoking and/or tobacco use is a problem. Similarly, 69% of Americans think college student smoking and/or tobacco use is a problem.
- More than half of Americans (56%) think the number of tobacco-free campuses is too low. This is similar among U.S. college students where the combined percentage is 54 percent.
- Three-quarters (75%) of Americans support policies that prohibit smoking and other tobacco use on college campuses.
- Fifty-two percent of Americans think whether or not a campus is tobacco-free is an important consideration when applying to, and potentially attending, a college/university, ranking behind academic quality (86%) and quality of housing (79%), but ahead of how competitive athletic teams are (38%).
Participating HBCUs and Community Colleges (partial list)
Cheyney University | Lincoln University | Tougaloo College | Rust College | Mississippi Valley State University | Alcorn State University | California State University - San Marcos | El Paso Community College | Howard University | Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College