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Editorial: Smoke Free Campus Survey

Editorial Board

A random sample of students, faculty and staff at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville were invited to fill out an online survey based on the interests of a Wisconsin State-supported program called Spark from March 11-22.  According to the American Lung Association website, Spark offers 18-24-year-olds a way to educate people in their campus communities about the health risks of tobacco use. “Spark is helping college campuses pass tobacco-free policies and educate campus communities that tobacco in all its forms is a threat,” the ALA webpage said.

According to the website, there are currently 62 Wisconsin college campuses that are completely tobacco free. The UW System has two affiliated schools that are tobacco-free–University of Wisconsin-Stout and University of Wisconsin-River Falls.  All Wisconsin campus buildings are smoke-free; however, Spark is moving to remove tobacco use on all campus premises.

“We had 2,130 respondents to this survey request,” Deirdre Dalsing, Director of University Counseling Services said.  “The survey was created to gather data showing whether or not students, faculty or staff would or would not support a Tobacco-Free Initiative on our campus.”

The survey UW-Platteville students were asked to complete eight questions directly related to tobacco usage and the policies surrounding such.  To have an unbiased survey to determine where people stand on a topic, the respondent population should include all members of the population.  No one was required to take the UW-Platteville survey.  Participants could also take the survey more than once.

This raises the questions: were people ages 18-24 who would prefer smoking, prefer non-smoking and those who do not care either way, respondents to the survey?  Are the results of the servey skewed because of the questions asked and repeat participants?

If all of these groups were not represented in answering the survey, the survey results would be deemed biased but not necessarily towards smoking or non-smoking.

Were faculty, staff, community members and those not in the 18-24 year-old age group also asked to take the survey?  These groups also use the campus, if they were not represented, the survey is biased.

Since no one was required to take the survey, the sample of people who took it may very likely represent those who care the most about the topic from both sides.  A lot of people could opt out.  Will survey results be skewed to show, for example, nine out of ten respondents as 90 percent supporting a tobacco-free policy on campus?   Or will the results of this survey accurately display how the UW-Platteville campus community feels on smoking policies?

If the campus decides to use a survey as its baselline for making a campus-wide decision, it needs to be sure that all voices are heard and accounted for.

Results of the survey will be presented to Student Health Care Committee and governance groups on campus in the next few weeks.

For more information on Spark, email info@sparkwi.org or call 262-703-4200.

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