NCCC gets grant to make campuses tobacco-free

North Country Community College students Colby Reynolds, left, of Rutland, Vermont, and Chris Murguia of Saranac Lake will work to engage the student body on tobacco-awareness issues as part of a Truth Initiative grant awarded to the college. (Photo provided by NCCC)

SARANAC LAKE — North Country Community College will use an $18,800 grant to help go tobacco-free on all three of its campuses — Malone, Saranac Lake and Ticonderoga — by 2020.

The grant was awarded by the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit public health organization dedicated to making tobacco use a thing of the past through education, research, treatment, community activism and engagement.

As part of the grant, the college will create a Tobacco-Free Task Force to assess tobacco-related issues on campus, educate and engage students and staff on the need for and benefits of going tobacco-free, identify a plan to address treatment for who are interested in quitting and develop a tobacco-free policy recommendation.

“We will be doing everything we can to engage the campus community on the program level, on the cessation level, on the policy level,” said NCCC Dean of Student Life Kim Irland, the project’s co-leader.

Using funds from the grant, North Country hired two student leaders — Chris Murguia of Saranac Lake and Colby Reynolds of Rutland, Vermont — who are traveling to Washington, D.C., this weekend to train and network with other schools and agencies that have joined the Truth Initiative campaign. They’ll be joined by Irland and fellow project leader Beth Quinn, executive director of the North Country Community College Association.

“After they return, the students will be responsible for engaging the student body on tobacco-free awareness and advocacy and prevention, connecting students with cessation — all the objectives of the Truth Initiative,” Irland said.

Both Murguia, a second-year student in NCCC’s Criminal Justice program, and Reynolds, a first-year Health Sciences student, said they were drawn to the Truth Initiative because they have family members who have experienced serious health problems due to smoking.

“We’re going to organize events to promote the tobacco-free campaign, helping to guide the campus to a better understanding of the dangers of tobacco use,” Murguia said. “Statistically, this is when many young people start smoking, so if we can stop it before it starts, it would be a big win on our part.”

“We want to promote a healthy community,” Reynolds said. “We also want everyone to realize that smoking doesn’t just impact you physically. It can impact you socially, financially and in other ways.”

Making the college tobacco-free will help ready North Country’s graduates for jobs in tobacco-free workplaces, Irland said. Many of North Country’s students are in health care fields like nursing, and might not be allowed to use tobacco at their place of employment.

The Tobacco-Free Task Force will also support the college’s employees by bringing in smoking cessation counselors, according to Quinn, who is a former smoker.

“I’ve chosen to live a healthier lifestyle, and I believe we can convince more people to do the same,” Quinn said. “We want to bring in professionals who can help them with their cravings or help them get the assistance they need. Some people may want to quit but don’t know there are resources out there that can help them.”

“We’re also going to open this up to people in the community who are looking to try and quit smoking or learn more about how they can. It’s not just limited to staff and students.”

Under current college policy, tobacco products cannot be used in any buildings on the college’s three campuses. People using tobacco products must be at least 50 feet away from any college building. A draft policy that would completely prohibit use of tobacco products on any campus was endorsed by the college Senate earlier this year, presented to the president’s office and is currently being negotiated with the college’s unions.

Irland said the college will reach out to property owners adjacent to the college’s campuses as part of any potential change in the tobacco use policy.

“We don’t want to end up driving people off our campus and onto their properties to smoke,” she said. “We’re doing this to promote a healthy lifestyle.”