UNLV announced on Friday that its campus would become smoke-free from August, a decision taken at least two decades ago.
The policy, which will be in place for the fall semester, will apply to both smoking and vaping, indoors and outdoors, at all UNLV properties, including the Thomas & Mack Center.
The decision is cause for celebration for Malcolm Ahlo, who was hired by the Southern Nevada Health District as an UNLV undergraduate 20 years ago to help make the campus smoke-free. He thought the task would be easy, taking three years at most.
“The stars never aligned,” said Ahlo, who is now the health district’s tobacco control coordinator.
Success came with the sixth attempt to navigate a multi-step approval policy, including approval by a university policy committee made up of faculty and students, who approved the measure in September before it is not submitted to the provost and president of the university, Ahlo said.
He and Shawn Gerstenberger, dean of UNLV’s School of Public Health, believe the pandemic has played a role in aligning policymakers at the state’s largest university, which has nearly 31,000 students and approximately 4,000 full-time faculty and staff.
“The pandemic, I think of course, has heightened our awareness of our health and the health of those around us, especially with coronavirus being a respiratory disease and its relationship to inhaling different components as you do when you smoke,” Gerstenberger said. .
Even the Mask Mandate improved the chances of the initiative.
“You can’t smoke while wearing masks, so we’ve basically made a lot of places smoke-free by having mask mandates,” he said.
No “cigarette police”
The policy, which will take effect on August 15, prohibits all forms of smoking, tobacco use, use of marijuana and nicotine products, including cigarettes, pipes, hookahs, e-cigarettes and vapers.
All buildings on campus are already smoke and vape-free under the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act banning smoking in most public indoor spaces except casinos, Gerstenberger said.
Smoking and vaping are currently permitted off campus. The Thomas & Mack, for example, has designated areas outside for smoking. There are also ashtrays and benches to accommodate smokers outside many campus buildings.
Gerstenberger said once the policy takes effect, designated smoking areas will begin to disappear. Enforcement of policies will not be brutal, he said.
According to the policy, the Office of Student Conduct must address violations of this policy by students. Supervisors must address violations of this policy by employees. The response to an initial violation will be education about the policy and about smoking and tobacco use. Subsequent violations may result in a verbal warning or written documentation of the violations.
Violations could result in disciplinary action, but Gerstenberger hopes that doesn’t happen.
“We’re not going to control this like they’re criminals or anything,” he said, adding the goal was to foster healthy behavior. “We’re not going to let the cigarette or vape police run around campus.”
UNLV joins about 2,000 universities across the country in becoming smoke-free, according to the School of Public Health. In southern Nevada, Touro University of Nevada in Henderson and Roseman University for Health Sciences already have smoke-free campuses, as does the University of Nevada in Reno.
Ahlo is now targeting the College of Southern Nevada and Nevada State University, where the initiatives are in their infancy.
Gerstenberger said most top R1 research universities, which number about 150 across the country and include UNLV, have already become smoke-free.
In late March, it was announced that the Las Vegas Lights FC football team’s home games at the Cashman Center would be smoke-free. A few days later, it was announced that the Las Vegas Ballpark, home of the Las Vegas Aviators Triple A baseball team, would also be smoke-free.
For Ahlo, this mission was personal due to the death of her grandfather, a lifelong smoker, from lung cancer.
He described Friday’s announcement as a “full loop moment.”
“Today I guarantee you I will have a glass of wine,” he said.
The initiative at UNLV was led by the School of Public Health in collaboration with the health district, American Lung Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Nevada Public Health Association, and Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition.
UNLV said it is committed to supporting anyone who wants to quit smoking. Help is available through the Nevada Tobacco Quitline by calling 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) or visiting nevada.quitlogix.org.