Tobacco use continues to pose serious health risks to countless smokers and their bystanders. According to the World Health Organization, there are approximately 1.3 billion tobacco users all over the world and 8 million deaths every year among them. The American Lung Association reports over 7,000 chemicals in cigarettes and e-cigarettes, at least 69 of which are carcinogenic and significantly increase the comorbidity of major chronic illnesses.
Since 1995, California has been a leader in implementing and enforcing smoke-free policies in public buildings. Following UCLA’s Policy 810: Smoke and Tobacco-Free Environment in 2013, all University of California (UC) campuses adopted smoke and tobacco-free policies on Jan. 1, 2014, and California Community Colleges have also slowly implemented policies for their campuses since then. But despite persistent efforts, only 60% of California Community Colleges had enforced smoke or tobacco-free policies as of June 2021, according to Campuses Organized and United for Good Health (COUGH).
As a member of the policy committee within the COUGH Student Leadership Board, I collaborated with other collegiate advocates and researchers across California to support the Smoke and Tobacco-Free Community College Resolution. Adopted April 4, 2020, Student Senate for California Community Colleges (SSCCC) finally accepted the challenge to create agendas for the implementation and enforcement of smoke and tobacco-free policies. This resolution was a reminder of their promise to develop policies that promote health and wellness, reduce second- and third-hand smoke, support cessation and increase awareness.
After repeated meetings with SSCCC and requests for confirmations of their compliance with the resolution, we expect campuses to further adopt, implement and enforce new policies when they reopen in fall 2021. We are thrilled to see the adoption of 100% smoke and tobacco-free policies on community college campuses and beyond.
Through the integration of research and advocacy on smoke-free policies, it is my goal as an aspiring dentist to help reduce one of the greatest environmental risk factors for oral diseases. Because nicotine in tobacco works as an immunosuppressant and induces an imbalance of microbiota in the oral cavity, smoking heightens the susceptibility to periodontal disease through the reduction of gingival inflammation, bleeding and redness that exhibit early signs of disease. The direct interconnection of tobacco to oral and systemic health, along with the alarming increase of youth and young adult smokers in the past decade, have motivated countless individuals like myself to urgently take small, concrete steps toward minimizing the tobacco epidemic.
Various resources and opportunities are provided by COUGH to anyone who wishes to learn and advocate about smoking. By becoming a member of this leadership board, collegiate students are empowered to create public health interventions and advocate for policy change at large. Eradicating an epidemic is not easy, but each individual’s support in smoking cessation or advocacy efforts will lead to cleaner air and better health for all.
~Ga Young (Genesis) Seo, Predental, UCLA ’22