Five percent of students at Weber State University say they've lit up a cigarette in the past 30 days — a small enough number that officials believe a smoke-free campus in Ogden is warranted and would be supported.

WSU's Student Health Center and the department of health promotion and human performance have received a $5,000 grant from the Weber-Morgan Health Department to explore the possibility of becoming Utah's first tobacco-free public university campus.

According to the American Cancer Society, smoke-free policies have been implemented on at least 97 campuses in the United States, with 17 states enacting similar comprehensive policies. The organization also reports that smoking causes about 53,000 deaths each year.

"We know from the research that it is harmful," said Lindsey Ohlin, a senior at WSU involved in Students Working Against Tobacco. "Things have to be done in order to prevent lung cancer and premature deaths related to smoking."

Since October, the group has been discussing a game plan and researching related topics and statistics they've gathered from other schools in the country.

"Our objective is to create a community that supports the health desires of the people within that community," said Hanalee Hawkins, a prevention specialist at WSU. Hawkins heads up a student group at the university that is working to educate their peers about the dangers of tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure.

"There's a harm from second-hand smoke, sometimes even just from smelling it," Ohlin said. "People have a right to be able to not smell that, especially when they're going to school."

According to the 2007 Utah Health Behavior Study performed on campus, a little more than 5 percent of the student body said they had smoked in the past 30 days, and approximately 80 percent of the students said they would support a tobacco-free policy on campus.

The student group aims to finalize plans for the initiative by the end of spring semester. Following campus community feedback, a proposal will be drafted and put before various governing bodies at the university, including the student body and faculty senates, President's Council and the Board of Trustees.

WSU is not the first to pursue a smoke-free campus, as Utah State University has made various, albeit unsuccessful, attempts in the recent past.

Anna Guymon, a community educator with the Weber-Morgan Health Department, said WSU was awarded the money because "they demonstrated a need to explore a tobacco-related disparity," as 60 percent of the campus' 18-24-year-old students, the majority of the population, don't smoke. They are also a group heavily targeted by tobacco companies, she said.

"Weber State is an open campus and many community events are held there, ones children and young people attend," she said. "It's all about saving lives and limiting exposure."

Several Utah communities have passed smoke-free policies for public parks and recreation areas, including Davis County, which implemented its smoking ban Jan. 1. Weber and Morgan counties are currently exploring a similar proposal, dealing with public areas.

"Because the climate is fairly good right now for tobacco-policy change, with Weber-Morgan counties and Davis County, we felt like we wanted to seize the moment and make sure we didn't lose momentum," Hawkins said. She said that if they can change the campus environment and make it more supportive, "that does contribute to the success rate of people who are attempting to quit as well as makes it a better place for those who don't want to be around it.

"We really feel like we're not doing anything out of the norm or out of the purview of what is already trying to be done," she said.

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