New focus on quitting tobacco

Eager to reduce tobacco use by students, the Student Health Service is exploring new approaches to help Portland Staters kick the habit.

The familiar technique of putting small groups through smoke cessation programs falls somewhat short in popularity today, said Julianne Ballard, registered nurse at the student health center.

The center is approaching the tobacco problem at two levels. One is organizational, developing a partial database of tobacco use among students plus working on a tobacco committee to evaluate which approaches seem to work best.

On the more practical side, the health service offers specific benefits and techniques to students who come to the office.

There are no figures yet as to what percentage of Portland State students use tobacco, Ballard said, but that lack is being remedied in part.

“For every M.D. appointment, students are asked their smoking status. That’s new policy we undertook winter term after our staff was trained by the Tobacco Free Coalition of Oregon. We determined it was very important to assess each student.”

Students are asked if they are current smokers, previous smokers and, if previous smokers, if they have they quit less than six months ago?

“This is so we could help to encourage them to stay quit.”

Intervention usually consists of offering advice from the Oregon Quitline. This is a smoking cessation counseling program paid for by tobacco settlement money.The toll-free number is (877) 270-STOP. Ballard attended a conference presented by this organization in the fall.

“What they have to offer our students is about 30 to 40 minutes of one-on-one counseling on the telephone that assesses their readiness to quit and goes through their past quit attempts and they try to hook them up with a program that would meet their needs.”

For students who have health insurance other than the PSU basic health insurance, Quitline helps access ongoing outside cessation programs. There would be group programs the students could do at an alternate setting outside the campus.

For students who just have the basic PSU insurance, Quitline offers this one-time counseling session on the phone.

“What most of our students like about it is that it’s anonymous,” Ballard said. “So there’s no judgment factor in talking to someone about their smoking habit.” The nurse said it is run by qualified people who can pick the best method for the individual student.

Once the student picks a method and gets enough information, the health service can do a follow-up.

“The Quitline will actually fax us information if the student has OK’d that,” she said, “Letting us know what the student’s plan are.”

The health service can follow up by helping the student with prescriptions for Zyban through the doctor, if it is appropriate. Or the health service can offer follow-up counseling with one-on-one planning exercises, helping the student approach the quit date and being a resource for helping the student to stay quit.

There is a new program being offered on the Web, a software program students can access which contains a self-paced smoking cessation program. It was developed by the Oregon Center for Applied Science and funded by the National Cancer Institute.

“This is a great program for students who are busy and want to be able to access smoking cessation advice whenever they feel is a good time for that.”

The program has been undergoing a research trial phase which has been offering cash for participating, although Ballard did not know if the cash benefits phase is ongoing.

The Web site is The center also maintains a toll-free phone number at (888) 349-5472. The caller should ask for the Smokefree Program.

In addition, the health service tobacco cessation committee is trying to come up with an outreach program that would be campus-wide and would go beyond just the students who come into the health service for treatment.

“In the fall, we will be evaluating what would be the most effective tool for that program,” Ballard said. “Group sessions didn’t prove to be very popular so we’re trying to figure what might be more accessible for the students.”

She said the health service will likely advertise the Internet access program and the Quitline more widely. The committee is looking at programs already tried, in order to find out what’s most popular campus wide.

The health service doesn’t want to miss students who are interested in quitting smoking. Sometimes they find students with respiratory infections or asthma attacks more receptive but the service wants to reach all students before they may find themselves in a crisis mode. Preventative care may be an answer.

Ballard saw new students coming into a situation where there might be pressures to smoke, and “we’d like to eliminate that, or at least convince them that smoking is not a good health choice.”

The way to prevent illness is to quit, Ballard said. She expects to have some significant data eventually from the questions asked of students who come in for illness treatment.

In her less than two years at PSU, she said, she has seen students who have definitely compromised their health by smoking.