UT needs to rework its nicotine addiction programs

Yusuf Shafi

In December 2019, the Trump administration signed a spending package into law raising the purchase of tobacco age to 21. A few months earlier, Texas abolished the previously existing grandfather clause, which means 18 to 20 year olds were no longer able to access nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes and cigarettes.

The new bill passed with bipartisan support, with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers hopeful to resolve the underage vaping epidemic.  The comprehensive reform left law-abiding nicotine users in the dust. 

Today, 18 to 20-year-old nicotine users have two options: Either they hop from store to store until they find a vape shop that discreetly slides nicotine products their way, or they seek help. 

The University of Texas has made it clear that it has a firm “No Tobacco or E-cigarette” policy on campus, but the new law pose a complex issue for students who previously vaped,  who now face triggers, cravings and high-stress situations that risk relapse. 

The University needs to recognize the limited resources of students and work toward promoting alternative strategies in order to mitigate symptoms of nicotine withdrawal while also exploring alternative treatments.

 University Health Services currently offers a series of resources at Healthyhorns.utexas.edu to help students transition into a nicotine-free lifestyle. The Counseling and Mental Health Center offers a free four-session tobacco cessation program. Students can also make appointments to see University Health Services healthcare providers if they want to discuss getting a prescription medication to help with smoking cessation.  

“(The tobacco cessation program) helps participants learn about nicotine dependence and its effects on the body,” Sherry Bell, consumer education and outreach coordinator for CMHC, said. However, she mentioned that the program “does not draw a large number of students.” 

Additionally, chief pharmacist Terry Weaver said that there are a couple of different pharmaceutical options for people that are interested in quitting smoking, including bupropion (brand name of Zyban) and Chantix (varenicline). On average, Zyban usually costs around $45 for 30 pills, while Chantix can range up to $470 for 56 pills. These prices are approximations that don’t account for insurance deductibles and are subject to change. On top of all that, clinical trials show that Zyban has a success rate of 15% while Chantix has a success rate of 44%. High prices of prescription drugs can deter students from seeking clinical options with the added detriment of inconsistent success rates. 

However, Weaver said it is fairly rare that Univeristy Health Services gets a prescription specifically for smoking cessation maybe a couple of times per month. 

The spring 2020 semester is an emotionally turbulent time for students. Busy schedules, exhausting coursework and demanding part-time jobs or internships put students in high-strung situations. A recovering addict may not have the time to commit to a four-week recovery course nor the funds to pay for prescription drugs.

Recently, UT sent out a policy letter notifying students of the UT tobacco-free policy. Only after navigating through two hyperlinks can students actually find the resource page for quitting. If the University continues to prompt students with enforcement messages, the cycle of low program usage will continue. However, by advertising already established quitting programs, UT can actually help students. 

Free on-campus nicotine replacement options, such as patches or gum, can also offer students a quick and easy solution. 

The need for accessible nicotine treatment is higher now more than ever. 18 to 20 year olds have already been sidelined by legislative changes, which means that UT needs to step up where the government has failed. 

Shafi is a government junior from Round Rock, Texas.