University of Montana smokers can feel free to light up, suck in carcinogens, and let nicotine re-adjust their gray matter as far as Initiative 146 is concerned. If passed, the bill will set aside $9.3 million annually from Montana’s tobacco settlement for smoking prevention, cessation and education programs. These programs would target “youth” and “students,” who seem to be defined as elementary and high school students. Supporters who spoke at an Oct. 17 press conference made no mention of university students. And the group’s publicity materials fail to note the college crowd on the “endangered smoker” list.
On the UM campus, though, students remain some of Missoula’s heaviest puffers. Each spring, grounds keepers spend countless hours collecting soggy cigarette butts that lay buried under the snow. The UC Market sells almost $500 worth of cigarettes and chaw in one school day. About 80 smoker outposts—trash cans designed specifically for cigarettes—sit outside campus buildings sending wisps of smoke into the air.
“[Smoking] is definitely a problem…that’s a visual perspective,” says Bernadette Bannister, who directed a Montana Tobacco-Use Prevention program out of UM until funding was cut during the last legislative session. Her budget dropped from $600,000 to about $19,000, she says.
The program provided state-wide training for people working in prevention and cessation. It also ran a resource center at the College of Technology where staff provided one-on-one support for walk-in students. Bannister doesn’t track the numbers of smokers on either campus, but the cuts hurt because she knows that many students look for help kicking the habit.
“We’re definitely sad because we had a lot of walk-ins,” she says. The program provided educational support, too: “We made sure that we would publish whatever training or prevention information we had around [UM] campus.”
If I-146 passes, children and high school students will certainly reap bene-fits. Evaluations done in each county would reveal other vulnerable groups, which programs would then be designed to target.
“The important part is that [programs are] based on community assessments,” says Kristen Nei of the American Cancer Society.
Assessments would show whether or not college students are considered vulnerable in Missoula County. College students, though, need help getting on the wagon, while the initiative’s supporters seem to favor spending money preventing youngsters from ever lighting up.