posted on Dec. 5: Leave the Pack Behind education campaign extended


A campaign to help student smokers “leave the pack behind” has been extended to the spring.

Six students have been working in conjunction with Student Health Service to educate students about what's available on campus to help them kick the habit. The initial $250,000 project, dubbed “Leave the Pack Behind”, was launched last March and was refunded with $170,000 by the Ontario government this fall, said Jane Radix, health educator for Student Health Service.

The project, co-ordinated by Brock University, is geared to reach 50,000 university and college students in Ontario.

Participants include: the University, McMaster Student Health Service, Hamilton-Wentworth Public Health department, the Regional Public Health department, Mohawk College, Niagara College, Queen's University, Kingston-Frontenac-Lennox-Addington Health Unit and the University of Windsor, Windsor-Essex County Health Unit and the University of Guelph.

An American study showed that one in 10 university students said they started smoking after the age of 19, Radix said, and one in 10 reported they intended to start smoking.

“Those numbers got us the funding,” said Radix. “It showed that some new students decided to take up the habit when they get here.”

Three graduate students and three undergraduate students are working on the project which includes peer counselling and delivering a computer software program that lets students know how ready they are to stop. As well, the student co-ordinators are giving classroom presentations outlining what steps smokers can take if they want to get help to quit.

Radix said “stage-based intervention” and a public health campaign delivered by peers seems to work well with university-aged smokers.

“Few students would show up for a formal clinic,” said Radix. “Now we get them to sign up for something and hope it creates a feeling of 'now I really have to do it.' The formal sessions seem to impede people from using it.”

Radix acknowledged that smoking is a difficult habit to break.

“People use it as a stress reliever,” she said, “and in this population it is also the social sphere. It is linked to having a good time.”

Radix said one of the components of the outreach program involves helping students identify alternative methods to deal with stress. As well, the health service has a limited number of nicotine patches available for students who are seriously committed to quitting, she said.

A Centre for Addiction and Mental Health survey of 7,800 students at 16 Canadian universities in 1998 found that:

  • 12.1 per cent of the students reported they smoked cigarettes daily
  • 10.4 per cent of the students reported smoking occasionally
  • the highest percentage — 14.7 per cent — of smokers were students living alone, off campus
  • students attending Ontario universities reported the highest rate — 14.1 per cent — of daily smoking.