Encouraging a ‘tobacco-less’ culture at Penn

This summer, Penn will begin rolling out additional initiatives that aim to foster a healthier campus through reduced tobacco use. 

Frank Leone, an associate professor of medicine at the Presbyterian Medical Center of Philadelphia, has led the charge to shift the thinking about tobacco use on Penn’s campus. He has worked with staff members at the divisions of Human Resources (HR) and Facilities and Real Estate Services (FRES), as well as Student Health Service and Campus Health, to examine how to encourage tobacco cessation in a non-punitive way.

“Really, we’re re-examining the way we have unintentionally facilitated tobacco use, and we’re doing what we can to change those things,” says Leone, who is also the director of Penn’s Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Programs.

FRES will be installing decals indicating that Penn is a tobacco-free campus, to maps located at building entrances in the core of campus and to select wayfinding blade signs.

Installation work for the decals is expected to take six to eight weeks, and will be completed by the start of the 2015-16 school year.

A reassessment of the location of smoker poles throughout campus, which will help to guide appropriate behavior, is also planned.

This work, in conjunction with increased free smoking cessation resources offered by HR, Student Health Service and Campus Health, and Penn’s Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program at Penn Medicine, is part of a shift in campus culture, with the ultimate goal of creating an atmosphere where tobacco use is not the norm.

“It’s an effort to try and reduce the environmental cues that trigger people to smoke, and an effort to try and increase the likelihood that people will look into resources to help them stop smoking,” says Leone. “Everyone in the community gets a voice, and gets a chance to deal with the tobacco epidemic in their own way—and it’s smoking that’s the problem, not the smokers.”

The effort includes not only faculty and staff, but also students.

“Lifelong smokers typically start using tobacco during adolescence and young adulthood,” notes Giang Nguyen, executive director of Student Health Service, whose Campus Health division is collaborating on the “tobacco-less” campus effort. “We hope to reduce initiation of tobacco use among students and assist those students who are already smoking and want to quit before graduating and entering the workforce.”

Leone explains the philosophy behind the approach: As people get older, their motivations are derived less from external factors, and more from internal ones, or what makes the most sense for them.

“In that same sense, we’re trying to encourage that level of evolution and thinking around tobacco use policies, such that the policies themselves no longer rely on external laws or rules or regulations, command-and-control types of strategies, and instead rely on human nature, the natural need among adult humans to do the right thing,” Leone says. “The more we can educate people or the more we can create a conversation around why something is the right thing to do, the greater the likelihood that people will behave in that manner.”

Leone says he doesn’t know of another organization that is taking this evidence-based approach to combatting the tobacco epidemic.

Success, he notes, will be marked when the community begins to adopt a tobacco-less culture as their own.

“It’s actually a philosophical shift about the nature of tobacco. It’s not about accommodating smoking—it’s about a functional shift in how we view the problem of tobacco use,” Leone says. “What Penn has been able to do is find a way to separate the problem behavior from the people and find a way to maintain Penn’s commitment to respect for persons [while] at the same time, being practical in reducing the impact of the tobacco epidemic.”

For more information on the Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program at Penn, visit http://www.pennmedicine.org/heart/patient/resources/patient-information/comprehensive-smoking-treatment-program.html.

Tobacco-free Penn