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Kalamalama Home
Tobacco at HPU: Too much of a bad thing
Survey and story by spring 2002 Communications 3400 class, Professional Writing

Hawai‘i Pacific University students smoke far too much, would like to quit, but aren’t too sure how about it.

At least that’s what a questionnaire developed and administered by a Communications 3400 class (Professional Writing) at the end of the spring term suggests.

Click on image for larger view

The questionnaire was part of an ambitious tobacco control project initiated by the class and Adjunct Professor John Hunter, also the Program Director of the American Lung Association of Hawai‘i. Some of the products of the Communications project, ads against tobacco and smoking that also advertise a free quit-smoking program of the ALA, are shown at right. “We have plenty of anecdotal evidence,” Hunter comments, “just the experience of being here every day, that tells us HPU is a real smokestack. We wanted something more solid to take to the HPU administration, to help them get a strong anti-tobacco program going. Now I think we have it.”

What did the questionnaire reveal?

The two-page questionnaire, partly based on a similar one from the rigorous University of Hawai‘i’s all-campuses tobacco control policy now seeking approval, was used at the spring HPU/Kaiser Health Fair. Two hundred and ten participants filled out the questionnaire, responding to incentives like free Blow Pops and the chance to win larger prizes (thermal bags and backpacks furnished by and with logos of the Lung Association). Almost all the participants were HPU students; 14 were passersby and three were HPU staffers.

The demographics were interesting in themselves, revealing the great international mix of HPU, with students from the U.S., Philippines, Sweden, Jordan, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Argentina, Africa, Holland, and Japan. Sixty-two percent of the respondents were females, 38 percent male. The largest age group was 16-20 years (42 percent), followed by 26-35 years (26 percent), perhaps a reflection of two groups, the younger U.S. students and the somewhat older group of international students. Fifty-nine percent of all respondents said members of their family smoked.

But 85 percent of the respondents said their close friends were smoking, which begins to suggest the HPU problem: where the percentage of smokers in all Hawai‘i’s diverse population hovers at slightly less than 20 percent and the smokers of high school age number 23.5 percent, as many as 29 percent, almost one in three, at HPU are apparent smokers. Not an encouraging figure for a university population, in a time when smoking has been revealed as indubitably death-dealing, cynically manipulated by Big Tobacco with youth-and-glamour ads, and costing as much as $150,000,000/year in direct health costs and lost productivity (U.S. Centers for Disease Control figures, April 11, 2002).

Tobacco knowledge

Smoking is like Russian roulette with all cylinders loaded.
Courtesy American Lung Association

High percentages are smoking at HPU, yet respondents evidently know at least something of the dangers of tobacco. Forty-three percent knew or guessed correctly that today’s cigarettes contain 45 Class A carcinogens (agents known to cause cancer in humans); another 20 percent guessed 30. Ninety percent recognized that today’s tobacco products contain nicotine, used in tobacco and pesticides; and another 71 percent knew they contain ammonia, the corrosive floor cleaner also used to ‘spike’ tobacco and intensify the impact of the nicotine. Fewer knew about the formaldehyde and arsenic, and only circa 60 percent knew or guessed that tobacco products contain cadmium (used mainly in car batteries) and acetone (nail polish remover).

Yet 29 percent were willing to believe that 1,000,000 U.S. deaths were directly attributable to tobacco each year; 37 percent believed the more accurate figure of 500,000. The balance of the respondents guessed far lower figures (the actual CDC figure from the April 11 news release quoted above, is 442,000+ deaths per year from diseases like lung cancer and emphysema, 90 percent of which is caused by smoking).

What should HPU do?

A cancer-ridden smoker’s lung.

Obviously, knowing about the dangers of tobacco use is not enough to get people to quit. “That’s attempting to apply rational solutions to a very nonrational business, often a deep addiction that’s even deeper with hard-core smokers who start at younger than sixteen,” Hunter comments. “Tobacco addiction is one of the fiercest and hardest to break that we know, harder even than heroin or cocaine. In addition to that, college-age people are simply notorious for their inability to imagine their own death. In their hearts most college students believe they are indestructible.”

So what should HPU do about tobacco, if anything? The questionnaire results suggest a more rigorous approach to the problem might be called for. More than half of those surveyed felt smoking at the University was nearly as serious a concern as any other form of drug use, including alcohol. Nearly three-quarters (72.4 percent) rated secondhand smoke in the HPU world as the gravest threat of all; 52 percent reported it bothers them “a great deal,” another 30 percent that it bothers than “somewhat.” Forty-one percent said they were troubled by secondhand smoke five days a week; only 16 percent reported that they were not troubled by someone else’s smoke. Fifty-one percent felt that secondhand smoke was always a “health danger,” period; another 27 percent felt it was a significant threat unless more than fifty feet away.

“They are right too. Secondhand smoke has been proven very dangerous to nonsmokers. And not just the stuff exhaled by smokers – the drifting smoke from the front end of cigarettes and even more nicotine-laced cigars are more a threat than the exhalations,” Hunter comments. “That’s why advocacy groups like American Lung were successful in their campaign to end smoking in all O‘ahu restaurants [effective July 1 2002]: it’s not to protect smokers from themselves, but to protect workers and non-smoking patrons from those who continue to puff away.”

The new O‘ahu smoking prohibition may solve much of the problem for HPU. One area the survey recognized as the most problematic is “outdoor dining areas” (the other was, more generally, “Fort Street Mall”). Since the outer dining areas of most Mall restaurants are not separated by the required distance from inner areas, the restaurants will be required by the new law to go all non-smoking.

Most of the respondents liked that idea and other protections against tobacco. More than 75 percent agree that smoking should be prohibited “in or around HPU building entrances” (it is: there’s a 10-foot rule), in “restaurants around HPU,” and at “HPU athletic/cultural events.” The same high numbers agree that HPU should not permit “distribution of tobacco promotional items” or allow tobacco industry sponsorship of athletic functions or of “any HPU functions.” The one problem area: the Fort Street Mall. Probably recognizing that the Mall is not really HPU property and therefore not subject to HPU controls, 63 percent said smoking should be “permitted” there.

What to do about the Mall, in a sense very much a part of the downtown ‘campus,’ is a big question. One of the students administering the survey pointed to the steps of the Our Lady of Peace church, where a number of HPU students sat lounging and smoking. “We’ve got to walk through that cloud, but you know it’s really the church’s responsibility to do something,” Brian Caleda commented. “It’s the same with most of the buildings HPU uses and the Mall. HPU doesn’t own them and can’t control them.”

Perhaps HPU can offer some help, however, to the 44 percent of the smoking respondents committing slow but certain suicide (that is, smoking more than six cigarettes a day). Of the smokers (approximately 30 percent of all survey respondents), 97 percent said they would consider using an HPU/Kaiser smoking cessation program, if one were offered. Seventy-seven percent had already tried to quit, more than half of them four or more times. There was no clear consensus on the best way to quit, although the two listed as probably the most effective cessation methods really underline the power of the nicotine addiction: “cold turkey” was very slightly preferred to nicotine replacement therapies.

Want to quit yourself? Call the Kaiser/HPU Health Service or try 537-5966, the American Lung Association, which has several programs that can help, including one online (www.ffsonline.org). Do you think HPU should do more to help the tobacco addicts and clean up the HPU air we share? Let offices such as Student Life know about it!

 

2002, Kalamalama, the HPU Student Newspaper. All rights reserved.
 
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