Updated April 8, 2022 - 5:44 pm
UNLV announced Friday its campus will go smoke-free starting in August, a move at least two decades in the making.
The policy, which will be in place for the fall semester, will apply to both smoking and vaping, both indoors and outdoors, at all UNLV properties, including the Thomas & Mack Center.
The decision is cause for celebration for Malcolm Ahlo, who was hired by the Southern Nevada Health District as a UNLV undergraduate 20 years ago to help turn the campus smoke-free. He thought the task would be easy, taking three years tops.
“The stars never aligned,” said Ahlo, who is now the health district’s tobacco control coordinator.
Success came with the the sixth try at navigating a multistep approval policy, including getting sign-off from a university policy committee made up of faculty and students, which approved the measure in September before it went before the university’s provost and president, Ahlo said.
Both he and Shawn Gerstenberger, dean of the School of Public Health at UNLV, believe the pandemic played a role in aligning the decision-makers at the state’s largest university, which has nearly 31,000 students and about 4,000 full-time faculty and staff members.
“The pandemic, for sure I think, heightened our awareness of our health and the health of those around us, especially with the coronavirus being a respiratory illness and its relationship to inhaling different components like you do when you’re smoking,” Gerstenberger said.
Even the mask mandate improved the initiative’s chances.
“”You can’t smoke while wearing masks, so in essence we’ve made many places smoke-free by having mask mandates,” he said.
No ‘cigarette police’
The policy, which goes into effect Aug. 15, prohibits all forms of smoking, tobacco use, marijuana use and nicotine products, including cigarettes, pipes, hookahs, e-cigarettes and vape pens.
All buildings on campus already are smoke- and vape-free under the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act banning smoking in most public indoor spaces except for casinos, Gerstenberger said.
Smoking and vaping currently are permitted in outdoor settings on campus. The Thomas & Mack, for example, has designated areas outdoors for smoking. There also are ashtrays and benches to accommodate smokers outside many buildings on campus.
Gerstenberger said that once the policy is in effect, the designated smoking areas will begin to go away. Enforcement of the polices won’t be heavy-handed, he said.
According to the policy, the Office of Student Conduct shall address violations of this policy by students. Supervisors shall address violations of this policy by employees. The response to a first violation will be education about the policy and about smoking and tobacco use. Subsequent violations may result in a verbal warning or written documentation of violations.
Violations could lead to disciplinary action, but Gerstenberger hopes it won’t come to that.
“We’re not gonna police this like they’re criminals or anything,” he said, adding that the aim is to support healthy behavior. “We’re not going to have the cigarette or vape police running around on campus.”
UNLV joins about 2,000 universities across the country in going smoke-free, according to the School of Public Health. In Southern Nevada, Touro University Nevada in Henderson and Roseman University of Health Sciences already have smoke-free campuses, as does University of Nevada, Reno.
Ahlo is now setting his sights on College of Southern Nevada and Nevada State University, where initiatives are in the early stages.
Gerstenberger said most top-tier R1 research universities, which number about 150 across the country and include UNLV, already have gone smoke-free.
In late March, it was announced that the home games of the Las Vegas Lights FC soccer team at Cashman Center would be smoke-free. Days later, it was announced that the Las Vegas Ballpark, home of the Las Vegas Aviators Triple A baseball team, also would be smoke-free.
For Ahlo, this mission has been personal because of the death of his grandfather, a longtime smoker, from lung cancer.
He described Friday’s announcement as a “full-circle moment.”
“Today, I guarantee, I’ll have a glass of wine,” he said.
The initiative at UNLV was led by the School of Public Health in collaboration with the health district, American Lung Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Nevada Public Health Association and the Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition.
UNLV said it is committed to supporting all those who wish to quit. Help is available through the Nevada Tobacco Quitline by calling 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) or by visiting nevada.quitlogix.org.