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Moving university campuses tobacco-free: collective responsibility and collaboration the key to a healthier Victoria

2 Dec 2014
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Smoking is Victoria's leading preventable cause of death and continues to kill 4,000 Victorians every year.1 In a demonstration of public health leadership, all Victorian universities have recently joined forces in the implementation of the Victorian Universities Tobacco-Free Initiative to contribute to reducing the burden from tobacco-related disease in Victoria.

The reach of Victorian universities to implement public health initiatives is significant and growing, with nearly 300,000 students and more than 40,000 academic and professional staff, as is the potential for universities to influence the heath behaviours of young people in a period where life-long behaviours are formed. This is particularly important, given that Victorians of university age (aged 18–29 years) are more likely to smoke than people aged 30–49 years and 50+ years.2

The Initiative educates and engages students and staff on the benefits of reducing smoking, supports smokers to quit and creates smoke-free campuses. This approach is more than just asking students and staff to leave the campus to have a cigarette; it provides a comprehensive suite of supports to help smokers quit that is likely to have a real impact on reducing harm from tobacco.

The Tobacco-Free Initiative approach is collaborative across all universities and has been designed and implemented in association with university communities.

An advantage of adopting a settings-based health promotion approach is that real changes can be implemented at local level without the need for government intervention or new legislation. Health promotion approaches driven by the community are efficient, timely and allow flexibility.

Like the approach used in the Initiative, they create an environment that encourages healthy choices, and supports changes in communities that will have a positive impact on individuals, and also households, families, friends and broader networks. Therefore, this approach is not about helping one individual – it is about supporting a community to be healthier.

The prevalence of chronic disease is increasing in Victoria.3 Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease share many common lifestyle-related risk factors and contribute a large proportion of the disease burden.4 Lifestyle factors such as tobacco smoking, excessive alcohol use, unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity contribute to the chronic disease burden.5

The direct health costs and lost productivity from smoking add up to $2.4 billion annually in Victoria alone.1 These costs are incurred across businesses, governments and by individuals. Given the recent concern about the sustainability of the health system in Australia, the costs attributable to smoking need to be addressed immediately. Victorian universities are doing their bit to help.

The Victorian Universities Tobacco-Free Initiative provides an effective framework for universities to continue to work together and demonstrate public health leadership in developing settings-based health promotion approaches to address the increasing incidence of chronic disease and lifestyle-related risk factors. The unprecedented degree of collaboration between Australian universities over this initiative also allows them to share resources and wisdom and to jointly evaluate the programs in place. This not only expedites the development and roll out of tobacco-free programs, but builds a very sound evidence-base for the most effective strategies in these settings.

The framework provides guidance for other industries in Victoria to work together to support the implementation of collaborative health promotion initiatives. The gravity of the future health, social and economic burden of chronic disease requires a timely and continued investment by government, but also by the private sector. The universities of Victoria encourage other major employers to join them and take an active role in developing environments that promote health for all Victorians.

References

  • 1 Collins DJ, Lapsley HM. The Social Costs of Smoking in Victoria in 2008/09 and the Social Benefits of Public Policy Measures to Reduce Smoking Prevalence. Melbourne (AUST): Quit Victoria and the VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control; 2011.
  • 2 Emily Bain SD, Wakefield M. Smoking Prevalence and Consumption in Victoria: Key Findings from the 1998–2012 Population Surveys. Melbourne (AUST): Victorian Department of Health; 2013.
  • 3 Department of Health. Victorian Population Health Survey 2010. Melbourne (AUST): State Government of Victoria; 2012.
  • 4 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Chronic Diseases and Associated Risk Factors in Australia, 2001. Canberra (AUST): AIHW; 2012.
  • 5 Begg S, Vos T, Barker B, Stevenson C, Stanley L, Lopez AD, The Burden of Disease and Injury in Australia 2003. Canberra (AUST): Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; 2007.
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