Under ordinary circumstances, I would have expected Shaw University senior Brenton Logan to conclude his time at the podium in Estey Hall with, “Go Bears!”
But this was no ordinary occasion. Logan’s parting cheer was, “Go tobacco-free!”
That’s how Logan helped welcome representatives of 33 historically black colleges and universities to Shaw in Raleigh for the kick-off of the Tobacco-Free HBCU Campus Initiative. The campaign is led by Truth Initiative, a national public health organization that champions tobacco-free lives by inspiring youth and young adults to reject tobacco as a thing of the past.
HBCUs lag behind other institutes of higher learning, restaurants, office buildings and other public places where smoking has long been banned.
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Since 2010, Truth Initiative reports, the number of smoke- and tobacco-free campuses across the country has tripled from 446 to 1,577. Even so, a majority of the nation’s 105 federally recognized HBCUs do not have comprehensive policies prohibiting tobacco use on campus.
The campus initiative is a first-ever nationwide effort to educate HBCUs, and alter attitudes and beliefs about tobacco use on their campuses. The goal: comprehensive no-smoking, tobacco-free policies that prohibit smoking on HBCU campuses by anyone at any time and in any place.
Each campus will receive the assistance of grant money, manpower and materials, including access to an app for online smoking cessation support.
Four North Carolina HBCUs are among the first wave of grantees. Joining Shaw are nearby St. Augustine’s University, N.C. Central University in Durham and N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro.
Sally Herndon, head of the Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, applauds Truth Initiative’s choice of North Carolina as its launching pad for the campaign “to protect students, faculty and staff, and visitors from second-hand smoke and to help every user who wants to quit.
“We want clean air to breathe in North Carolina,” Herndon said.
Experts at the launch zeroed in on the tobacco industry’s intention to target minority communities, particularly African-Americans, in marketing and promotional campaigns. The result, they said, is African-Americans are disproportionately affected by tobacco-related deaths compared to other ethnic or racial groups.
“We are dying,” said Amber Bullock, Truth Initiative’s executive vice president and chief of community and youth engagement. “Don’t let this happen to your generation. Make tobacco a thing of the past.
“We’ve got to nip it in the bud,” Bullock continued. “But we’re not going to get anywhere unless we have student support and student leadership.”
As a Truth Initiative fellow, Logan is on the front lines.
It’s a role Logan, 22, takes personally as a native of Richmond, Va., home to the Philip Morris tobacco company. In 2009, lung cancer claimed the uncle who “was a major part of me becoming the man I am,” Logan said.
“Because of him, I know I can have and be anything I want in life.”
As Shaw’s student liaison for the initiative, Logan said surveys on campus suggest there are fewer smokers than non-smokers on campus.
“My role is to lead by example and make sure the policy is enforced,” said Logan, who is majoring in sociology with a criminal justice concentration. “I’m here to assist and educate them as a student peer on tobacco use and try to help them as much as I can.”
Alexis Lundy expects the message coming from Shaw to be loud and clear.
“I’m glad it started here because other schools sometimes think of Shaw as a party school,” said Lundy, 21, a junior social work major from Emporia, Va. “Since a lot of youngsters smoke because of peer pressure, trying to fit in, if HBCUs see us making a change, they will want to change, too.”