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Committing to a Tobacco-Free Future

President's circle at the University of Utah campus
The University of Utah

Though the death rate from cancer has declined steadily over the past two decades, cancer remains the second-leading cause of death in Utah and the United States. As many as one-third of all cancer deaths result from tobacco use. In Utah, nine percent of adults smoke regularly.

To combat tobacco-related cancer deaths, Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) takes a multifaceted approach: advocating for comprehensive tobacco control policies; informing communities about tobacco risk; and providing tobacco cessation services.

HCI's work on tobacco control policy isn't limited to the outside community. In recent years, HCI worked with University of Utah (U of U) students, administrators, and other wellness advocates on an initiative to achieve tobacco-free status. On July 1, 2018, the U of U was officially designated a tobacco-free campus. The designation supports clean air initiatives, reduces costs associated with health care, and creates a healthier environment for tens of thousands of students, employees, patients, and visitors.

"This designation represents a positive and momentous change for the University," says Garrett Harding, HCI's community outreach manager. "Transitioning to a culture of health and wellness does not happen overnight, but it's an opportunity to take our own best advice and lead by example."

As a result, more tobacco cessation programs became available on campus. Education about HCI's tobacco studies also increased. HCI is now working with the Utah Tobacco Free Alliance and other public colleges and universities across Utah to adopt similar policies. Additionally, HCI supports restricting the sale of e-cigarettes to youth and applauds the Utah State Legislature for raising the legal age for sale of all tobacco products from 19 to 21.

Along with tobacco control policies, education is a key component in reducing tobacco-related deaths. HCI's community outreach team travels to every county in the state, fostering partnerships with local organizations to educate tens of thousands of Utahns annually. This work promotes individual behavior change and connects tobacco users to vital resources like the Utah State Quit Line, a free, bilingual 24/7 telephone coaching service, and to cessation research studies offered through the HCI Center for Health Outcomes and Population Equity (HOPE).

The Center for HOPE, which opened in 2018, brings communities and HCI researchers together to create long-term solutions for preventing cancer and improving health. Recently, the Center for HOPE forged partnerships with Utah's Federally Qualified Health Centers, which serve disadvantaged communities. This will expand our capacity to reach patients who are underrepresented, including low-income, racially and ethnically diverse, rural, and LGBTQ populations across Utah.

"Unfortunately, treatments don't always get to the individuals who need them most," says David Wetter, PhD, director of the Center for HOPE and professor of population health sciences at the U of U. "Our vision is to serve as a bridge between scientists and the community as we strive to achieve health equity across Utah and the Mountain West."

Read more stories from the 2019 report to our community

Cancer touches all of us.