Students in Assistant Professor Sara Newman’s "Public Health Communications" class are learning how to utilize communication campaigns to influence health behaviors of target populations. Instead of only studying and examining some of the most classic public health campaigns ("This Is Your Brain on Drugs", anyone?), Newman dropped the students into the middle of Fort Lewis College’s current health behavior transition – becoming a smoke- and vape-free campus.
“Oftentimes being in college means a lot of passive sitting and absorbing information. I saw this as an opportunity to get students out of the classroom and into effecting change within their own communities,” says Newman.
In November, Governor Hickenlooper announced his executive order banning smoking in all state buildings and on their grounds. Smoking and vaping were prohibited at FLC beginning January 1, and the great task of educating campus on the policy was spread among many leadership groups, including the Public Health program. Newman's background is in social science theory applied to public health practice. She, however, had little experience in vaping or tobacco cessation.
“The foundation of public health is partnerships, and we were fortunate that so many cessation experts joined forces with us - professional public health practitioners, community members, and we also had a ton of support from within Fort Lewis College,” she says.
Peer education and social enforcement are highly effective tools for public health policy implementation, and as Newman put it, forces aligned this semester to be able to assign her 26 students as strategists for a real-world public health problem. She split them into eight campaign groups, each choosing a different campus user group for developing targeted messaging. The eight campaigns aim to:
1. Educate the FLC community on the difference between commercial tobacco and traditional tobacco;
2. Reduce tobacco use among student athletes;
3. Destigmatize the benches previously designated for smoking and create a more inclusive environment;
4. Help those who are contemplating quitting smoking to take the next step in preparing to quit;
5. Support the LGBTQ community in smoking and vaping cessation;
6. Support transfer and non-traditional students in smoking and vaping cessation;
7. Reduce vaping rates at FLC, and;
8. Increase campus utilization of smoking cessation resources available through the Wellness Peer Advisory Council.
Newman’s students are using many different marketing tactics to spread their messages, including flyers, social media, a video, buttons, and a film screening with a panel of local experts.
"Some people don’t want to be helped and so it’s frustrating work. But if down the line, years from now, when people are like, ‘of course we don’t smoke on our campus,’ and it becomes the norm to not smoke and vape on our campus, it will all be worth it."
Junior Emily Smith is part of the bench campaign and is happy the campus is now smoke- and vape-free, though campaigning the new policy hasn’t been entirely easy.
“Some people don’t want to be helped and so it’s frustrating work. But if down the line, years from now, when people are like, ‘of course we don’t smoke on our campus,’ and it becomes the norm to not smoke and vape on our campus, it will all be worth it,” she says.
The campaigns are set to roll out to campus beginning April 1, which coincides with the start of National Public Health Week. On April 2, a film highlighting the difference between traditional tobacco and commercial tobacco will be screened at 5:30 p.m. in the Vallecito Room. The eight student groups will be tabling at the event, which will culminate with a speaker panel. Annie Mombourquette, substance use prevention coordinator at SJBPH, will be on the panel to discuss her work in commercial tobacco prevention, education and cessation, in addition to speaking to the benefits of smoke- and vape-free environments. She has been advising the students on public health policy implementation throughout the semester.
“Students are ideal communicators for this policy because they bring student voice and culture to the table, in addition to the amazing research they have done over the course of the semester with the support of Dr. Newman,” says Mombourquette. "The work they are doing impacts the health of the campus and in turn the health of the community at large."
Students also collaborated with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, and FLC’s Native American Center, Physical Plant Services, Gender & Sexuality Resource Center, Athletics, WellPAC, and Marketing & Communications. Newman says other community partners may come into the fold in the future.
“This has been such a positive experience. I hope to continue it in future semesters, especially partnering with outside entities,” says Newman. “I would be especially excited to work with community groups that already exist in Durango and farther out.”