Coe needs to step up anti-smoking efforts

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By Tim Mauldin

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The most recent Coe College alumni magazine contained three disturbing photos of our immediate past president publicly smoking cigars. It is troubling to learn that Coe has been tacitly endorsing the deadly addiction of tobacco, and especially at a Presbyterian school.

According to the Iowa Department of Health, “Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death for Iowans, taking the lives of more than 4,400 adults each year. Estimated annual health care costs in Iowa directly related to tobacco use now total $1 billion.”

Big Tobacco markets its minions of products, including candy-flavored cigars, to our children. IDH reports that “approximately 90 percent of all smokers start before age 18; the average age for a new smoker is 13.” This is a very insidious form of child abuse.

According to IDH, “83 percent of Iowa smokers want to quit.” But Big Tobacco enhances their nicotine with additional chemicals to make certain that their products become quickly and permanently addictive.

Within a few years after I was graduated from Coe in 1969, my father died of lung cancer caused by tobacco. His death at age 58 left his wife and children with huge health care bills and a struggling family business. Dad was a great guy and a Presbyterian elder.

Dad revered U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, who was widely known as progressive, compassionate and a smoker. Like many young men in the 1940s, he went off to war with a mess kit with cigarettes included. He returned from the war with a lifelong tobacco addiction. FDR did not know about the harmful consequences tobacco.

But surely Coe College does today.

My mother loved my father, but was not a smoker. Because of her, my father did not smoke in the house or in the car.  But many children have parents and grandparents who do smoke in homes and cars. Like college presidents, these parents and grandparents are role models for many of our young people.

My wife has asthma. Millions do, and the numbers are growing. Besides the direct harm to health from secondhand smoke, it is further a concern for those with asthma and other respiratory illnesses. IDH indicates that 32 percent of middle school children and 28 percent of high school children are exposed to secondhand smoke at home.

This academic year began a new era for Coe. David McInally has been selected as Coe’s 15th president. He is an environmentalist, a Presbyterian elder and a non-smoker. While my dad had little support besides his family to end a tobacco addiction in his lifetime, today there are many resources. IDH and many public health groups stand ready to help make Coe a real leader in public health, and the ongoing fight against Big Tobacco.

Coe needs to make “no-smoking on campus” more than signs, slogans and stickers. It should be a top priority to help students, staff and faculty end a deadly addiction, brought to nearly all of them as children. It should be a major goal that fewer smokers graduate from Coe than those who come to Coe with a tobacco addiction.

It is time for Coe to join the growing number of colleges and universities that are dedicated to ending the deadly and costly addiction of tobacco, one of our greatest forms of child abuse.

Tim Mauldin of Norman, Okla., graduated from Coe College in 1969 and was student body president his senior year. He is an Oklahoma educator and the American Cancer Society has recognized him with its “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his service as a board member and public health advocate. Comments: tmauldin.acs@sbcglobal.net

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