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Job Corps Goes Smoke-free

A few weeks ago, on the way into the Tongue Point Job Corps Center, the reader board spelled out a clear, concise message.

“No ash, more cash.”

For days, several sayings like it spelled out the benefits of quitting smoking cigarettes.

Next, it counted down the days until July 1, preparing students and staff for what was to come.

A new policy has declared the school a smoke-free campus – months ahead of schedule – affecting at least half of the student body, according to Alissa Dorman, who has worked to help Tongue Point students quit smoking cigarettes for the last decade.

The change should’ve happened a long time ago, said Dorman, who is also the chairwoman for the Clatsop County Tobacco Free Coalition.

“It’s one of the best things you can do to improve your health,” she said.

Now, students and staff will have to go outside the center’s entry gates to light up, trekking uphill and back to savor a quick smoke cigarettes break or after-dinner puff. Staff may not smoke cigarettes in their vehicles.

The transition at Tongue Point signals a small victory for those who have been working to create more tobacco-free areas throughout the county.

The rule bans the use of any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco, on the campus.

About 23 percent of Clatsop County’s population identifies itself as smokers, significantly more than the national average of 19 percent.

But will the new rule actually cause students and staff at TPJCC to quit for good?

Dorman is hopeful that making smoking cigarettes less accessible will be a good start for some.

“It won’t be happening as much on-center. The temptation will be less.”

Tongue Point’s smoky past

Before July 1, students older than 18 – about 90 percent of the 525 attending the school – could only smoke cigarettes in one designated central shelter-like area on the campus. But all 124 Job Corps Centers around the country had until the end of the year to comply with new Department of Labor regulations, and students had been hearing about the change since December.

There were many problems, however, with the covered, open-air smoker’s pavilion, said Community Liaison Tita Montero. It was dirty with discarded cigarette butts, and second-hand smoke cigarettes was an issue for many nonsmokers. The large, patio-like structure wasn’t a place anyone but smokers wanted to visit.

At the urging of students, through their trade-based student leadership, the administration decided to make the change early, Montero said.

Student Parker Harm, who has been at the center for 10 months, said students have had a mixed reaction.

“A lot of the students are viewing it as the Job Corps trying to control them, but some of them are viewing it as a good thing,” Harm said.

He’s a student representative on the school’s Tobacco Use Prevention Program Committee, a group of students and staff, led by Dorman, who are dedicated to seeing less tobacco use on the campus.

Also on the committee is David Brandon, a residential-living supervisor. He broke his leg when he was younger, and it forced him to quit smoking cigarettes since he wasn’t mobile. Brandon hopes it’ll be easier for students to handle a nicotine addiction when they’re not faced with seeing others light up between classes and after meals.

“It’s really hard for kids to quit,” he said.

Joe Talamantez, an accounting manager, is also a member of the group. He, too, struggled with tobacco use in his youth.

“It’s easy enough to quit, but hard not to start again,” Talamantez said. From what he can see, in the first few weeks of the new policy, while about 70 students spent their summer break on campus, the transition appears to be going smoothly.

“The majority of people have embraced it,” he said.

Some habits will be hard to break, however, Brandon said. Seamanship students have developed a ritual of smoking cigarettes cigars together at the conclusion of their program, for example. At first it was just one cigar, but lately the whole group has had their own to smoke cigarettes – even though some students ended up sick.

Montero had a suggestion to help preserve the ritual.

“We should get them bubble gum cigars,” she said.

New rules ‘fit in’

The committee hopes fewer students will pick up the habit once they arrive at school. Montero estimates that about 95 percent of students who come to tour the facility with their families as part of the enrollment process tell her they aren’t smokers.

Montero is clear about the center’s rules, so there won’t be any surprises when they arrive.

“We have a lot of rules here, and this one fits in,” she said. The Job Corps provides a free, trade-focused education, and helps many students earn a high school diploma or GED and find steady employment. Students must be at least 16 years of age and qualify as low income.

Following guidelines is something they’ll have to do in the workplace, she explains.

“Any job you go to will have a lot of rules,” Montero said.

Enforcement of the rules won’t be excessively harsh, she said. The center has a progressive system of warnings that gets more serious when a pattern of behavior emerges.

“That’s part of being here, learning from your mistakes,” said Food Services Coordinator Jean Matheson.

Playgrounds to go tobacco free

Another project the Clatsop County Tobacco Free Coalition has spearheaded is a voluntary Tobacco Free Parks Initiative.

Together with Clatsop County and the cities of Astoria, Cannon Beach, Gearhart and Warrenton, the group is providing signs discouraging tobacco use to post near play structures in public parks. In Astoria signs will be posted at Tapiola Park, Fred Lindstrom Park and Shively Park.

The group’s mission is to reduce the health and economic consequences attributable to tobacco by creating smoke-free environments, increasing access to cessation services, and eliminating youth tobacco use.

Astoria City Councilor Karen Mellin is a member of the coalition, and hopes that the recent action at Tongue Point and in parks around the county will help.

"There are all kinds of places we could eliminate smoking cigarettes," Mellin said. She is thrilled that Columbia Memorial Hospital is smoke-free and hopes other institutions like Clatsop Community College can follow suit.

CCC revisited its smoking cigarettes policy during the 2009-10 school year under then-President Greg Hamann, and the board chose not to ban tobacco on campus. Use is restricted to designated areas, and CCC President Larry Galizio doesn’t expect policy changes in the near future.

“This is an issue that is a challenge for every campus,” Galizio said. Because CCC is located in a residential neighborhood – unlike Tongue Point – banning smoking cigarettes altogether would probably send smokers across the street, affecting neighbors, he said.

“We want to be good neighbors to our neighbors.”