Did you know that tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States? Additionally, smoking-related illness in the U.S. costs more than $300 billion a year including $170 billion in direct medical care for adults. Joining a nationwide anti-smoking and tobacco-use campaign, Norfolk State University held its Tobacco-Free Initiative kick-off event last month and is now one of 33 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) involved in the Tobacco-Free HBCU Campus Initiative.
This effort, led by Truth Initiative and former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, aims to change attitudes and beliefs about tobacco use on HBCU campuses. The Truth Initiative is a nonprofit public-health organization seeking to increase awareness about the dangers of tobacco through education, research and outreach.
NSU professor and project director Dr. Cynthia Burwell says the initiative is imperative. “Smoking tobacco links to so many diseases and disparities, especially in low-income and minority communities,” says Burwell. “Many tobacco companies have targeted African Americans for decades, with menthol cigarettes in particular.”
Smoking-related diseases are the number one cause of death in the African-American community with approximately 47,000 African Americans dying from smoking-related diseases each year.
Today, 1,577 college campuses have smoke- and tobacco-free policies, but a majority of the nation’s federally recognized HBCUs do not have these policies in place to protect students, faculty and visitors from the dangers of tobacco use and second-hand smoke. With these statistics, Burwell hopes that NSU’s tobacco policy changes will flow over into the community and encourage Virginia’s other HBCUs to follow suit.