UT System hosts annual Eliminate Tobacco Use Summit

The University of Texas System convened its 2nd Annual Eliminate Tobacco Use Summit April 17-18 in Austin to enhance tobacco control actions across the state. The Summit is part of the UT Eliminate Tobacco Initiative, a collaboration between UT System and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, designed to reduce the health toll of tobacco use in Texas.

The Summit brought together tobacco control representatives from all 14 UT System institutions, as well as from partner organizations, state and local agencies, and other Texas universities and colleges, to share best practices and identify opportunities for further progress in reducing tobacco use on campus and throughout the state.

“Tobacco use is the single leading cause of preventable death in Texas,” said David Lakey, M.D., chief medical officer and associate vice chancellor for population health for the UT System. “UT institutions have long been leaders in the area of tobacco and addiction research. Now we’re stepping forward as leaders in reducing the use of tobacco among our students, staff and faculty. The summit was an opportunity for us to assess our gains so far, two years into the initiative, and to push ourselves to keep going.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 28,000 Texans die each year from smoking-related causes, and approximately 498,000 Texas children who smoke will ultimately die prematurely from smoking-related causes. Sixteen percent of adults in Texas and more than 10 percent of high school students in Texas smoke.

In addition, employees who smoke cigarettes have higher health care costs and are less productive. The CDC reports an estimated $8.85 billion in annual health care costs in Texas are directly caused by smoking.

“As of May 31, UT System will have comprehensive tobacco free policies in place on every campus, making it the largest single employer in Texas to prohibit tobacco use in the workplace,” said Ernest Hawk, M.D., vice president and head of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences at MD Anderson. “Policies such as this are only a first step; translating policies into less tobacco use and better health is an ongoing challenge that requires us to assess our needs candidly, learn from each other and constantly strive to improve.”

The Summit was designed to facilitate sharing of best practices across institutions, and, in particular, to help improve the quality of, and access to, cessation and prevention services on campuses. Presentations at the Summit, along with ongoing monitoring and documentation of campus efforts, revealed that there is great variability among institutions in the level of cessation and prevention services provided and in the consistency of access for patients, employees, their families and college students.

Discussions focused on specific actions that could move the system forward over the next year, including:

  • Continue to strengthen tobacco-free policies on campus.
  • Increase the level of monitoring, assistance and enforcement on campus through a variety of pathways, such as student conduct office, human resources and campus police.
  • Initiate and leverage tobacco prevention and peer education programs, such as Peers Against Tobacco.
  • Identify and promote available cessation services, both on-campus and/or with a partnering institution.

In addition to talks from UT System researchers and staff, the Summit featured presentations by Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights; Chelsea Frand of the Office of Surveillance Evaluation and Research in the Texas Department of State Health Services; Julie Chobdee, wellness program coordinator for The University of California System; and Kimberlee Homer Vagadori, project director of the California Youth Advocacy Network.

“Eliminate Tobacco has already accomplished a great deal, largely as the result of dedicated health champions on each campus,” said Lakey. “There is still a great deal of work to be done, and The Summit was an opportunity to remind ourselves of the importance of the work, and to recharge and recommit to improving the health of our campuses and our people.”