Smoke Free Is the Way to Be

One public health major catalyzed an upcoming change to campus policy based on his research, which showed community support for the initiative.

By: Meghan Kita  Thursday, December 6, 2018 11:02 AM

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Greg Kantor ’18 explains the research he did on smoke-free campuses. Photo by Bill Keller.

Greg Kantor ’18, a public health major with a minor in Jewish studies, stands in the Baker Center for the Arts next to his research poster, “Developing a Smoke-Free Policy for Muhlenberg College.” His is one of more than 30 projects students are presenting during Alumni Weekend 2017, and cork boards displaying the posters line the CA concourse as members of the Muhlenberg community saunter past.

One alumna, after pausing to take in Kantor’s work, says to him, “Since I started smoking years ago, there have been more and more restrictions. I used to be able to smoke inside, and thankfully, I can’t anymore. If I’m ever going to quit, it’s going to be policies like these that help me get there.”

Her words reinforced Kantor’s research, which found significant support for a smoke-free policy at Muhlenberg—even from folks who currently light up on campus.

“Greg has conducted a survey targeting all the major stakeholder groups on campus and has also met with key college committees,” says Chrysan Cronin, director and professor of public health and faculty sponsor of Kantor's research. “While there is overwhelming support for the policy change, several people are opposed to it and view it as an infringement on their right to smoke. This policy is not meant to be punitive: We are trying to encourage healthy behaviors that will benefit both smokers and non-smokers.”

Conducting the Research

This initiative began Kantor’s sophomore year, when he chose smoke-free college campuses as the subject of his final project in Cronin’s Issues in Public Health course.

“Whenever I do these assignments, I try to make them applicable—I wanted to do something that had meaning to me,” Kantor says. “I’ve had experiences in classes where my asthma has been worsened by people who’ve smoked.”

At the end of the semester, Cronin encouraged Kantor to continue his work through an independent study, which he began the following spring and pursued through that summer with the help of a summer public health research grant. He began by designing a survey that he administered electronically to more than 500 students, faculty and staff on campus in spring 2017.

As the survey ran, Kantor also researched the approximately 1,500 higher-ed institutions in the U.S. with existing smoke-free policies. Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, proved to be the most comparable to Muhlenberg: It has a similar number of students and a liberal arts focus, and it also has city streets that run through its campus. Kantor reached out to Macalester’s health promotion coordinator to learn how they went about enacting their policy in the hopes of imagining how something similar might be done here.

He used survey and interview data to create his poster, but his work wasn’t finished: In the fall, he reopened the survey for incoming first-year students and collected responses from Sodexo and Plant Operations employees (who don’t have Muhlenberg email addresses) via hard-copy forms.

The amount of support Kantor received surprised even him: “I expected, across the board, that if someone is a smoker and they see a smoking survey, they’d take it and be less likely to provide the support I want,” he says. “There were quite a few people who said they smoke but that they support the policy.” More than two-thirds of the survey respondents were in favor of going smoke-free.

“If the community had said ‘no,’ I would have dropped it,” he adds. “They have shown me through their responses that they want this policy change.”

Making the Change

Kantor’s vision of what a smoke-free policy would look like comes from his research on other smoke-free campuses as well as his meetings with key stakeholders at Muhlenberg.

For example, he spoke with Brian Fidati, director and chief of campus safety and police, about how the policy might be enforced. Together, they decided it should not be punitive: Instead, interested officers (as well as Peer Health Advocates at Muhlenberg and members of the Wellness Committee) would undergo training in what to say if they were to spot someone smoking. A script from the University of California, Los Angeles, that research shows works well goes something like this: “I notice that you’re smoking. Muhlenberg is a smoke-free campus, so I’d ask you to please extinguish your cigarette.”

The speaker, who would be carrying index cards with cessation information, would then continue, “Here are some resources if you’re interested in quitting. Have a nice day.”

Campus safety is just one of the key groups President Williams asked Kantor to seek approval from before the measure could come before the President’s senior staff. Senior staff approved the change over this past summer, and the plan is to work toward adopting the policy by June 1, 2019.

The research “was a multi-year process that went throughout my public health training and undergraduate experience. It’s so rewarding to see all my efforts were not only valued but are going toward a positive change on our campus,” says Kantor, who is now pursuing his master’s in public health as part of the first group of Muhlenberg students to benefit from the cooperative program with the Boston University School of Public Health. “It really does go to show, at least at Muhlenberg, that a small group of people with a vision for how to improve health can effect change.”