Surgeon General brings tobacco ‘battle’ to campus

U.S. Surgeon General Boris Lushniak visited UC Wednesday to warn members of the community about the risks of tobacco use.

United States Surgeon General Boris Lushniak visited the University of Cincinnati Wednesday asking students and faculty to join the “battle” against tobacco.

“We still have a battle against tobacco, even 50 years later,” Lushniak said. “We have 50 years of progress but it isn’t enough. We have the tools to fight tobacco use. We need to use them and fund them.”

Lushniak shared the results of the most recent surgeon general’s report on the harmful effects of tobacco.

For the first time, women have been found to be as likely to die from smoking-related diseases as men. Among female smokers, risk of lung cancer has increased 10-fold and risk for males has doubled.

January marked the 50-year anniversary of the first surgeon general report on smoking and health.

The original report, released in 1964, was the first federal report to link smoking and ill health, which at the time included only lung cancer in males.

The 2014 report states that 13 cancers are now causally related to smoking.

Lushniak said it’s vital to prevent smoking at a young age — more than 88 percent of people starting smoking before age 18, according to the 2014 report.

“This is an age group that I’m very concerned about. The world is a little different than it was when I was in college.” Lushniak said. “ The idea is that [smoking] becomes a stress reliever for students. And when others are doing it, it becomes an acceptable stress reliever.”

Preventing smoking on college campuses has become one of Lushniak’s main initiatives.

“There’s a strong movement in this country to make tobacco-free campuses,” Lushniak said. “Changes are difficult but the reality is that I need to focus on the college campuses. The tobacco free college campus initiative is an expanding concept.”

UC students involved in Relay for Life attempted in the fall of 2013 to gain signatures for a petition to make UC a smoke-free campus, but their efforts were unsuccessful.

Lushniak said he believes this may be because students think they wont become addicted.

“What youth right now can’t stand is that they want to be in control,” Lushniak said. “I need to get the message to them that [smoking] is the beginning of loss of control, that this thing will take over.”

Brian Adams, the chair of the dermatology department at UC, said this was an ideal time to bring Lushniak to speak at campus.

“I think it is perfect meshing of UC, given Boris’s background as being an alumni here, and that he is in this extraordinarily important role as the acting surgeon general,” Adams said. “I wanted to energize students and really highlight what we have to offer and what we produce. At UC, we produce people at the highest levels of education and public health policy.”

At the UC College of Medicine, there has been an increased focus for students to work on smoking prevention.

“For medical students, there’s a big push towards preventative medicine starting before the disease even occurs,” said Wesley Ghasem, second-year medical student. “We have a course that’s called ‘Smoking Cessation’ where we get people who are already smoking to stop. But if we can do that in the age gap before they even start smoking that would have the best benefit.”

Since the first report in 1964, more than 20 million Americans have died because of smoking, 2.5 million of which were caused by secondhand smoke, according to the 2014 report.

“In the end, we are all responsible for protecting the health of our nation,” Lushniak said. “I implore [UC] to join with me in making this a part of your mission.”