The international politics of smoking

Peer Health Advocate Patric Abi Nader talks to an INTO student about the free smoking cessation program offered through Student Health Services. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

As Oregon State University prepares to become a smoke-free campus in September, efforts are being made to reach out to different populations to both educate them on the policy, and to offer access to the smoking cessation offerings that are available free to students and staff.

Currently, much work is being done to target INTO OSU students with a widespread outreach effort, and language, cultural, and religious considerations are key to the cessation policy’s message. Student Health Services’ newly hired graduate assistant Patrick Abi Nader, a native of Lebanon and a Peer Health Advocate with SHS, is using his own experiences as an international student to reach out to INTO students, and so far, has received a warm welcome.

“Students have been very open to discussing the issue,” he said. “Approaching them has been successful.”

There are a variety of ways in which Abi Nader and Peer Health Advocates have been reaching out to INTO students. Posters and educational materials are being translated into several native languages. Tabling events and workshops are being organized and Abi Nader even uses the old fashion technique of simply approaching students smoking outside the INTO building to chat with them.

So far, no one has been hostile, and in fact, Abi Nader said the fact that he’s a non-native speaker seems to put other international students at ease. It has also helped him as he gives smoking cessation counseling sessions to international students.

“They know they don’t have to speak perfect English to speak with me,” he said.

Abi Nader also tries to be culturally savvy about his approach. For instance, if he sees a group of male students from the Middle East standing together, he knows that one of them is likely the leader, or main influencer, of the group, so he tries to quickly establish which student is taking charge of the conversation, and directs his efforts that way. He is also fluent in Arabic, which can help the situation.

New INTO students arriving at OSU this summer and fall should already be aware of the coming smoke-free policy through INTO recruiters in their home countries. And once here, groups including Peer Health Advocates, University Housing and Dining Services, and Student Health Services will join INTO to make them aware of programs like free nicotine patches, gum and counseling sessions, to help smokers if they’re interested in quitting.

But Stacey Edwards, Smoke Free OSU Project Director and PHA Coordinator, recognizes that smoking isn’t just about addiction. It’s also about a social network that can be especially important to students coming to live in the U.S from other countries.

From right, Peer Health Educators Alex Pearson and Stephanie Liu hand out information about smoking cessation and the upcoming OSU smoke-free campus policy. (photo by Theresa Hogue)

“International students tend to cluster around each other when they arrive,” Edwards said. “Sometimes they’ll even pick up mannerisms, such as going outside to smoke together. Some students who haven’t smoked before pick up the habit when they come here.”

The hope is that the smoke-free policy on campus will actually encourage an environment where those students who want to quit will finally be able to because they won’t have the constant reminder or social pressure of groups smoking near buildings.

“It will become an environment that is supportive of their choice,” Edwards said.

Edwards said INTO OSU and UHDS staff have been important partners during the education process, and she’s encouraged that international students are slowly starting to come into SHS for smoking cessation counseling. Abi Nader has only had a handful of clients during his first two weeks with the program, but as word of mouth spreads, and the smoke-free campus deadline approaches, those numbers are bound to increase.

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One Response to “The international politics of smoking”

  1. Lindy Osborne, INTO OSU says:

    A big thank you to the Peer Health Advocates, SHS and the smoke-free campus committee for reaching out to our students! We greatly appreciate your efforts.