Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

U-M's new smoke-free policy prompts smoker to kick the habit

When Penny Gamble’s supervisor took her aside one day in July to explain how the university’s new smoke-free policy affected the off-campus site where she works, the U-M Health System employee decided it was a good time to kick the habit.

To see how smoke-free boundaries are defined, maps now are posted on the smoke-free website.

“I’ve smoked for 30-something-odd years, so I made this my reason to quit,” says Gamble, senior billing associate for UMHS, who works in the KMS Building on South State Street.

While all buildings at U-M have been smoke free for many years, campus grounds and university-owned vehicles were included in the ban as of July 1. This includes property around the buildings that U-M rents. Smoking is allowed on sidewalks along public thoroughfares and in personal vehicles.

President Mary Sue Coleman announced the plan to go smoke free in April 2009, and for the last two years the university sought feedback on policy implementation from various constituents and prepared the campus for the change. This included establishing a program of support for those who choose to quit. Free counseling and reduced co-pays for generic tobacco treatments products are available to employees through the MHealthy Tobacco Independence Program (MTIP). Similar incentives are available for students.

Gamble, who was a pack-a-day smoker, is one of many who sought help from the university to quit after U-M announced the plan to go totally smoke free. In fact, calls to MTIP for quit assistance have increased significantly since the university’s announcement of the ban. More than 200 employees have enrolled since the program began in January of 2010. Additionally, since January of this year, 24 students have used the free counseling/medications program.

“We are pleased that so many students and employees are taking advantage of the program, and that most reports indicate that those who are smoking are respecting the policy,” says Dr. Robert Winfield, chief health officer and director of University Health Service.

Gamble says every step along her four-week journey has been helped by people from MTIP, her insurance carrier, and her husband and children. Employees choose among several tobacco treatment programs, and Gamble went with one offered by Blue Care Network (BCN).

“Angela (Precht) has been great. Any question I asked she was able to answer. When I go online it tells me how to get a hold of people for help. I filled out a survey with BCN indicating how much I smoked and they made a plan for me, and I get a newsletter once a month,” Gamble says. Precht is an MHealthy tobacco treatment specialist, who coordinates MTIP.

Gamble says it hasn’t been easy but she is determined to stick with it.

“I know people who are in bad shape, who are my age, because they have smoked,” says the 51-year-old mother of two. “I have been smoking since I was 16 years old.

“All I did the first week was bawl because I wanted it. It was the one thing that was mine. But I can tell myself now that, ‘you don’t need that again.’”