On January 1, 2018, the American University of Beirut was declared tobacco-free. This presidential initiative brings AUB in line with thousands of universities around the world that promote health and wellbeing on campuses by prohibiting the use of tobacco products, indoors and out.
President Fadlo Khuri officially announced this initiative in his President's Perspective of March 14, 2017. “AUB is determined to maintain its role of modeling a better society, and it is essential that we take the lead on important and forward-looking ideas—just as we did when we admitted women students in the 1920s," said President Khuri. “Making AUB fully tobacco-free will be a transformative change leading to a more beautiful and wholesome campus as well as a healthier campus community."
A community-based approach
Dr. Khuri formed the AUB Tobacco-Free Task Force in March 2017, chaired by Dr. Rima Nakkash, associate professor at the Faculty of Health Sciences and WNTD 2013 awardee, who led a 30-member faculty/staff/student advisory team from campus and the AUB Medical Center to steer the development, implementation, enforcement and evaluation of his mandate. The task force includes current smokers to get their perspective on facilitators and barriers to effective implementation and enforcement.
“The rationale is that smoke-free environments promote healthy behavior," said Nakkash. “In a campus that educates students, you want to prevent new students coming in from taking up smoking and you want to provide a clean enabling environment for smokers considering quitting."
Over six months, the task force surveyed the evidence and the experiences of other universities and gathering feedback from within the AUB community. It delivered its recommendations to Dr. Khuri in August 2017 after comprehensive and inclusive deliberations and discussions within the community, ensuring the requisite considerations were in place to mitigate safety, crowding, and littering issues and allow for transition. The task force' work included a communications campaign under the slogan “Tobacco Free AUB 2018," a mapping and an evaluation component, and a policy group to draft the new policy. The AUBMC leadership ensured that free smoking cessation support was offered, with dozens of applicants signing up and successfully quitting tobacco. Dr. Khuri led from the front with a number of different multi-media messages and holding town hall meetings to underpin the initiative. On January 1, 2018, the new policy came into force and has been judged a significant success, with positive feedback and minimal complaints from smokers or violations.
Plans include educating the community about the policy and adding information about it to orientations sessions. Making smoking cessation programs more widely accessible and affordable is a key component of the policy. Enforcement is also a primary concern and, for this, the task force is taking a community-driven approach.
President Khuri receives WHO Award on World No Tobacco Day 2018
Recognizing his major efforts in this field, and due to this particular initiative, President Khuri is a recipient of the World No Tobacco Day 2018 Award from the World Health Organization (WHO) for the Eastern Mediterranean region. This annual award recognizes individuals or organizations in each of the six WHO regions for their accomplishments in the area of tobacco control. This recognition takes the form of WHO Director-General Special Recognition Awards and World No Tobacco Day Awards.
“I hope others will follow us on this socially responsible path, but even if they do not, at least we can be sure we have done the right thing," stated President Khuri. “If just a handful of students come to AUB and avoid the scourge of tobacco addiction, or staff members manage to rid themselves of this destructive habit, it will have been worth the effort."
President Khuri, who has spent his entire professional career treating the victims of tobacco-related illness, has emphasized this initiative is not about judging those who choose to smoke, but more about creating an environment where young people are not encouraged to view smoking as an acceptable activity.
Around 6 million people die annually from tobacco use. In Lebanon, 4,000 deaths per year are attributable to tobacco-caused diseases and the prevalence of smoking nargileh among youth aged 13-15 is the highest in the region. Lebanon has a problem with tobacco and it does not seem to be getting any better.
AUB has taken an evidence-based approach to the issue of smoking on campus, looking at best practices from other institutions and gathering statistics on smoking among current students, faculty, and staff. What the research has proven is that instituting a tobacco-free policy on a university campus leads to less smoking.