As Orange County continues to educate the community about the risks associated with tobacco products and electronic cigarettes (e-cigs), the Point of Sale Task Force, made up of students from the University of Central Florida (UCF), has become a crucial participant in reaching the post-adolescent demographic. The Tobacco Point of Sale Task Force is represented by select members of the university’s Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC), a student group organized and mentored by UCF Student Health Services administrators. SHAC aims to educate and promote healthy lifestyle behaviors through outreach activities and supporting various screenings. Led by committee chair Saoulkie Bertin, and partnering with the Orange County Department of Health, the students visit local participating retailers to ensure they are in compliance with signage, promotion, and distribution methods of e-cigarettes and tobacco products. “Helping the community quit smoking or preventing them from starting can save lives,” said Dr. Raul Pino, Director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County. “Having a tobacco Point of Sale policy in place will prevent more people from using tobacco products and thus benefit the overall health of our community, especially the youth.”
With support from UCF Student Health Services, the committee holds monthly tabling sessions and organizes events across campus, creating opportunities to interact with fellow UCF students by speaking with them about the long-term effects of smoking and secondhand smoke. They are also briefed about the university’s smokefree policy which aids in our county’s efforts in promoting a tobacco free Florida. SHAC’s Vice President Aysha Khan, mentions “As a result of our tabling efforts and UCF’s adoption of its smokefree policy, students, staff and faculty alike are becoming increasingly aware about smoking in public areas and its correlation to secondhand smoke. Several students have spoken to us about seeing peers and even professors smoking on campus. There is a concern since some students cannot tolerate the smell of the smoke-clouds, and many feel uncomfortable being around it, as there are risks associated with secondhand smoke which include: burning and watery eyes, nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.” 4
During tabling events, students are asked to complete a survey which collects additional data on tobacco usage. More than 500 students have participated in the last quarter alone 1. For those looking to quit tobacco smoking, UCF Student Health Services offers free smoking cessation classes which provide students, staff, and faculty the support, knowledge, and free nicotine replacement therapies they need to overcome smoking.
Mary Schmidt-Owens, co-chair of the campaign steering committee and UCF’s Associate Director of Healthcare Compliance for Student Health Services, noted that UCF is in a group with approximately 2,500 other colleges and universities with similar policies. “As the result of the implementation of the smoke free policy in Fall of 2012, there have been fewer smokers on campus,” Schmidt-Owens said. “The policy was adopted in order to encourage healthy lifestyles and change the university community’s behavior so that everyone’s right to clean air is respected. Because of the ever-changing UCF student community, education about the policy continues semester to semester. One example, with the uptick in electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) the policy has been updated to include more specific language about the non-use of these devices.”
The University of Central Florida is vested in making sure the UCF community is aware of the risks associated with their various life and health choices. Smoking cigarettes does not simply affect the lungs, it also weakens the immune system, increasing the likelihood of developing cancer since the smoke enters the bloodstream and spreads throughout the entire body. As a result, it becomes significantly more difficult to kill cancer cells. This creates an opportunity for almost all types of cancers to form. 2, 3 Educating students on these cancer risks has been widely received.
The president of SHAC, Taylor Shepard, believes “The welcoming nature of the Task Force has allowed open communication between students and the Committee. Therefore, the university’s smoking cessation classes and the Orange County resources are accepted and utilized to their full extent. Students are honest about their nicotine and other tobacco use which makes helping them that much easier.” Additionally, the collaboration between the Florida Department of Health, the Orange County Department of Health, and UCF Student Health Services continues to enhance the overall goal of eliminating tobacco use in the state of Florida by focusing on younger generations.