‘Spark’ aims to light up the debate on a tobacco-free campus

"Spark," a campus group trying to ban smoking, drew chalk lines to deter smokers from lighting it up near buildings. Photo by Elise Krivit/[email protected]

For weeks, nothing’s there; then, suddenly, they’re everywhere. Circles of faded chalk, a measurable distance from campus buildings, with reminders about Marquette’s smoking policy.

Less visible are the people who make them. But Spark, a campus organization seeking to spread the word on the risks of tobacco, is hoping to make a more visible mark on Marquette’s campus — one sidewalk at a time.

Spark, formerly known as the Marquette University Tobacco Coalition, became a campus organization in 2008. The group is effectively a branch of the American Lung Association of Wisconsin and the Tobacco Control Resource Center for Wisconsin.

The organization’s goals are to make Marquette a tobacco-free campus and promote a tobacco-free lifestyle to students and staff, according to its organization description.

According to the City of Milwaukee Health Department, 1,200 Americans die every day from a smoking-related illness in the United States. From 2000 to 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that approximately 7,240 smoking-related deaths occurred for people aged 35 and older in Wisconsin, not including secondhand smoke rates.

Becky Michelsen, a health educator for Marquette’s Center for Health Education and Promotion and Spark’s faculty adviser, said the organization has done well since its creation three years ago.

“I believe it is going to grow and do some great things,” Michelsen said in an email. “As more schools are encouraged to start their own chapters I believe that you will see more colleges and universities in Wisconsin go either smoke-free or tobacco-free.”

Analyn Kusper, a sophomore in the College of Communication, is a peer health educator in the Center for Health Education and Promotion and a student involved in Spark.

Kusper said Spark’s mission is “to encourage healthier lives and reduce the deadly impact Big Tobacco has on 18-24 year olds by advocating for policy change surrounding tobacco issues.” Kusper went on to explain the Big Tobacco industry “has the ability to spend 40 times more money than the individual states on promoting tobacco products.”

“(The tobacco industry is) not taking into account the health risks that come along with every cigarette, or any tobacco product for that matter, that people use,” Kusper added. “Spark would like to see Marquette take positive steps forward in some way to make the campus a clean air environment for those who do not choose to put the chemicals in their bodies.”

The organization was created on campus by a peer health educator and the Center for Health Education and Promotion. Spark currently works to collect and review data to support a tobacco-free campus as well as propose changes to current campus policies that would lead to a tobacco-free campus.  In addition, the group puts on educational presentations around campus on tobacco products, explaining what tobacco products are out there and how they are marketed to specific audiences.

“When it originally started a few years ago,” Michelsen said, “some progress was made with regard to proposing and creating a unified tobacco policy on campus and working with the Annex to create hours where they would be smoke-free prior to the implementation of the current Wisconsin Smoke-Free law.”

This year, Kusper said the organization’s goal “is to promote a tobacco-free lifestyle for students and staff and draft a proposal to encourage MU to go tobacco-free.”

In the past semester, Spark has hosted “The Great American Smokeout” on Nov. 16 and 17, when students marked the sidewalks with chalk 25 feet from the entrances to campus buildings to remind smokers of campus policy. The organization is currently passing a petition around campus to survey student interest in supporting a tobacco-free campus.