I have spent most of my life being around smokers. My close family members including my mom, grandpa and uncle have been smoking for as long as I can remember. And while they always encouraged us to never pick up a cigarette or try and tobacco products, they were never able to practice what they preached.

My family members would smoke in front of our porch, in our backyard, and even in the cars that we shared.

As a result of exposure to secondhand smoke, I have developed chronic allergies triggered by inhaling smoke. And despite all of the advancements with smoking cessation and all of the available data supporting all the reasons to quit tobacco products, my family members have not been able to kick their addiction to these harmful products.

Hawaii has already banned the purchase and public use of tobacco products by people under 21. Challiyil EswarChalakudy via Wikimedia Commons

Nothing hurts me more than sharing a family moment during the holidays or a birthday celebration, and some of my family members leaving mid-moment for a smoke break. It reminds me that these products are engineered to addict individuals, and that if it weren’t so difficult, they would quit.

When I think about my family members that smoke, it makes me want to see what I can do to make sure my friends and I can avoid a lifetime of addiction. I am now a student at the University of Hawaii and the president of a registered independent organization on campus called Breathe Aloha.

We want to make sure that so many of my peers can avoid that lifetime of addiction to tobacco products and protect the rights of those nonsmokers who want to avoid the dangers of inhaling secondhand smoke. Nonsmokers who are exposed to high levels of tobacco smoke at work are at double the risk for developing lung cancer, and lung and heart disease.

The Facts About Tobacco-Free Campuses

While Hawaii has made a lot of progress in innovative tobacco-control policies, we are woefully behind when it comes to making our university campuses tobacco-free. The American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation reported as of January 2018, nearly 1,800 campuses are 100 percent tobacco-free, up from nearly 1,500 colleges and universities across the country last year.

The reason why so many campuses across our nation have gone tobacco-free is due to the data available on when individuals become addicted to tobacco products. While approximately 90 percent of smokers start by age 18, fully 99 percent start by age 26, underscoring the importance of supporting young adults with more effective prevention and cessation efforts while eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke and all tobacco use in their learning environments.

And tobacco continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in Hawaii and the nation. This year, 1,400 Hawaii adults will die from smoking.

Tobacco-Free UH Legislation

For myself and other students, working to make our University of Hawaii campuses tobacco-free seemed like a logical approach toward ensuring that 51,000 students across the UH system were able to attend university campuses and breathe clean air. Since the opening of the Legislature in January, we have worked with Hawaii legislators on legislation that would make all of our campuses tobacco-free. We have testified at public hearings, organized fact sheet and informational packet drop-offs and have hand-written cards sharing our stories about why we need this legislation.

These efforts culminated in our tobacco-free UH bill, Senate Bill 134, making it past the House Judiciary committee with over 1,100 pieces of testimony in support and only one piece of written testimony in opposition. We are now waiting for the Senate to assign conferees who can work with the House to move a final draft that can be signed into law.

On behalf of all of the students that have been involved in the legislative process since the opening day, through crossover and now heading into conference, we urge our state legislators to take the final step toward ensuring that 51,000 students currently on-campus across our system and countless numbers of future students can avoid a lifetime of addiction to tobacco products.

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