Campus scores ‘B-’ grade on tobacco policies report card

    UCSD received a grade of “B-” for its tobacco-free policies, while seven other colleges in the area earned failing grades, according to a new “report card” released by the American Lung Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

    The first-of-its-kind evaluation judged the extent to which 13 local college campuses discouraged student tobacco use. The study was conducted in partnership with the Tobacco-Free Communities Coalition, with partial funding from the California Department of Health Services.

    “Institutions of higher learning are excellent targets for big-tobacco donations and funded research,” ALA health educator Susanna Concha-Garcia stated in an e-mail.

    Point Loma Nazarene University and San Diego State University received grades of “A+” and “A-,” respectively, for their tobacco-free policies, while University of San Diego and Palomar Community College both received a “B.” California State University San Marcos received a “D.” The other remaining colleges, including San Diego City College, Cuyamaca Community College, Mesa College and National University, received failing grades.

    The final grades are based on almost five years of study, which included communications with university administrators and student groups, as well as an evaluation on more than two dozen grading criteria.

    “We applaud the institutions with high grades and we are hearing from some other campuses that they will move forward quickly to establish policies that will improve the health of tens of thousands of students,” said regional ALA Vice President for Government Relations Debra Kelley in a Dec. 3 announcement.

    UCSD received a perfect score for campus enforcement of smoking rules and regulations but lost points for a lack of protection of community members and a lack of reduction of second-hand smoke exposure. For example, outdoor dining patios on campus do not have smoke-free areas, and parking lots are not smoke-free, according to the report card.

    The campus also lost points for accepting research funding from tobacco companies and for failing to prohibit the sale of tobacco products on campus.

    “The UCSD [General Store] co-op still sells tobacco on campus,” Concha-Garcia stated. “There are large incentives to sell cigarettes, such as the high profit margin made on tobacco sales, the tobacco companies’ reimbursement for in-store displays and reimbursements of the store for lost or stolen tobacco merchandise.”

    Campus spokesman Barry Jagoda said the university acknowledges the importance of the ALA’s study.

    “UCSD does a good job of discouraging smoking, but there’s always room for improvement, and some of the issues in the American Lung Association’s report may deserve further study,” Jagoda said.

    Smoking went up on university campuses nationwide from 22.3 percent of students in 1993 to 28.5 percent in 1998, a rate higher than that of all adults, according to ALA.

    Citing concerns about increased tobacco usage among the young adult population, the ALA received funding in 2001 to develop the report card. In March 2004, the ALA sent letters notifying colleges of the grading criteria and forecasting their scores. The schools were then given a chance to verify and update their data and to modify or adopt new tobacco-free policies. The final grades were announced in November.

    Representatives from some of the “failing” college campuses, however, have cited errors in the ALA’s report.

    “We were not awarded points in ten areas that we clearly have a practice [or] procedure in place to reduce the exposure to tobacco or to encourage the cessation of the use of tobacco,” San Diego City College Director of Administrative Services Carol Dexheimer stated in an e-mail. “I think the reporting errors occurred because the ‘reporter’ did not contact a representative of City College … I don’t know how or who came up with the inaccurate information that resulted in the reported ‘F.’”

    Concha-Garcia, however, defended the ALA’s reporting procedures.

    “This is the first report card of its kind, rating the college and university campuses in San Diego County,” she stated. “The report card was set up to analyze the policy and college characteristics unique to each setting. What happened is that campus administrators who communicated with the ALA early on fared better than those who waited until the fall.”

    A new report card for the same 13 colleges will be issued in May. In the mean time, the ALA will assist schools in improving their smoking policies, the organization said.

    “All the campuses that received ‘F’ grades have let us know that they are serious about improving their grades by furnishing complete information and working with us to understand how colleges can be a tobacco-resistant environment,” regional ALA spokesman Ross Porter stated in an e-mail. “The real meaning of these grades is to promote awareness of this kind, so we think we are on the right track.”

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