News Image
Greg Kantor ’18 explains the research he did on smoke-free campuses. Photo by Bill Keller.

Smoke Free Is the Way to Be

One public health major strives to change campus policy based on his research, which shows the community supports the initiative.

By: Meghan Kita   Wednesday, January 31, 2018 11:02 AM

Greg Kantor ’18, a public health major with a minor in Jewish studies, stands in the Baker Center for the Arts next to his research poster, “Developing a Smoke-Free Policy for Muhlenberg College.” His is one of more than 30 projects students are presenting during Alumni Weekend 2017, and cork boards displaying the posters line the CA concourse as members of the Muhlenberg community saunter past.

One alumna, after pausing to take in Greg’s work, says to him, “Since I started smoking years ago, there have been more and more restrictions. I used to be able to smoke inside, and thankfully, I can’t anymore. If I’m ever going to quit, it’s going to be policies like these that help me get there.”

Her words reinforced Greg’s research, which found significant support for a smoke-free policy at Muhlenberg—even from folks who currently light up on campus.

“Greg has conducted a survey targeting all the major stakeholder groups on campus and has also met with key college committees,” says Chrysan Cronin, director and professor of public health and faculty sponsor of Greg's research. “While there is overwhelming support for the policy change, several people are opposed to it and view it as an infringement on their right to smoke. This policy is not meant to be punitive: We are trying to encourage healthy behaviors that will benefit both smokers and non-smokers.”

Conducting the Research

This initiative began Greg’s sophomore year, when he chose smoke-free college campuses as the subject of his final project in Cronin’s Issues in Public Health course.

“Whenever I do these assignments, I try to make them applicable—I wanted to do something that had meaning to me,” Greg says. “I’ve had experiences in classes where my asthma has been worsened by people who’ve smoked.”

At the end of the semester, Cronin encouraged Greg to continue his work through an independent study, which he began the following spring and pursued through that summer with the help of a summer public health research grant. He began by designing a survey that he administered electronically to more than 500 students, faculty and staff on campus in spring 2017.

As the survey ran, Greg also researched the approximately 1,500 higher-ed institutions in the U.S. with existing smoke-free policies. Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, proved to be the most comparable to Muhlenberg: It has a similar number of students and a liberal arts focus, and it also has city streets that run through its campus. Greg reached out to Macalester’s health promotion coordinator to learn how they went about enacting their policy in the hopes of imagining how something similar might be done here.

He used survey and interview data to create his poster, but his work wasn’t finished: In the fall, he reopened the survey for incoming first-year students and collected responses from Sodexo and Plant Operations employees (who don’t have Muhlenberg email addresses) via hard-copy forms.

The amount of support Greg received surprised even him: “I expected, across the board, that if someone is a smoker and they see a smoking survey, they’d take it and be less likely to provide the support I want,” he says. “There were quite a few people who said they smoke but that they support the policy.” More than two-thirds of the survey respondents were in favor of going smoke-free.

“If the community had said ‘no,’ I would have dropped it,” he adds. “They have shown me through their responses that they want this policy change.”

Making the Change

Greg’s vision of what a smoke-free policy would look like comes from his research on other smoke-free campuses as well as his meetings with key stakeholders at Muhlenberg.

For example, he spoke with Brian Fidati, director and chief of campus safety and police, about how the policy might be enforced. Together, they decided it should not be punitive: Instead, interested officers (as well as Peer Health Advocates at Muhlenberg and members of the Wellness Committee) would undergo training in what to say if they were to spot someone smoking. A script from the University of California, Los Angeles, that research shows works well goes something like this: “I notice that you’re smoking. Muhlenberg is a smoke-free campus, so I’d ask you to please extinguish your cigarette.”

The speaker, who would be carrying index cards with cessation information, would then continue, “Here are some resources if you’re interested in quitting. Have a nice day.”

Campus safety is just one of the key groups President Williams asked Greg to seek approval from before the measure could come before the President’s senior staff. Greg is wrapping up securing those approvals, and he hopes to bring the matter to senior staff next month. While Greg’s proposed timeline involves a gradual rollout that wouldn’t have Muhlenberg going entirely smoke-free until January 2019, he’d like to have an action plan in place before he graduates: “I don’t want to leave the campus unprepared to make a change I was pioneering,” Greg says.

After commencement, Greg will be pursuing his master’s in public health as part of the first group of Muhlenberg students to benefit from the new cooperative program with the Boston University School of Public Health. Cronin says Greg’s experience researching and pushing for this policy will serve him well there: “He has a much better understanding of how public health policy works in practice. He understands the obstacles and the challenges public health practitioners face when we’re trying to effect some kind of change. He’s also learned that stakeholder support is essential in changing policies and that policy change does not happen overnight.”