Building a Healthy Mississippi

Collaborative Seeks to Strengthen College Tobacco-Free Policies

Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi has a history of leading by example in encouraging Mississippians to become tobacco-free. Following the Company’s decision for our own workplace to become tobacco-free workplace in 2006, the Healthy Workplace Initiative was offered to employers in 2008, including the Be Tobacco-Free benefit. Then in 2010, all Healthy Workplaces became tobacco-free, followed by all Network Hospitals becoming tobacco-free in 2011. In 2014, tobacco-free became the expectation for large groups.

Today, we are continuing to lead by example in our own workplace. Here at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi, 98 percent of us are tobacco-free. More and more of us are taking advantage of the Be Tobacco-Free Program and making the healthy decision to become tobacco-free.

With the vision of a “Healthy Mississippi,” almost $17 million in grant funds have been awarded to universities and colleges across the state to implement the Foundation’s University and College Health and Wellness Model. Great strides have been made in creating cultures of health and wellness on campuses and in communities. One of the objectives of the Model includes taking steps toward becoming a tobacco-free campus. A majority of Mississippi universities and colleges have adopted comprehensive smoke-free and tobacco-free policies; however, the recent rise of electronic nicotine delivery system usage creates an opportunity to adopt new policies or enhance existing policies.

The Foundation hosted the University and College Tobacco-Free Campus Collaborative in late August 2019 to provide education about the harmful impact of tobacco and e-cigarettes and challenge leaders of Mississippi’s universities and colleges to enhance existing tobacco-free policies.

Top levels of leadership from all eight of Mississippi’s publicly funded universities and thirteen community colleges attended the Collaborative and engaged with healthcare and education experts about how to improve the health and well-being of their campus communities through strengthening tobacco-free policies.

“University and college campuses are ideal for promoting smoke-free and tobacco-free lifestyles to the benefit of everyone’s health, from students to personnel to visitors,” said Dr. Thomas C. Fenter, Foundation Board Chairman. “The Collaborative was a call to action for campus leaders to increase physical health and quality of life by taking steps to adopt policies, implement strategies and educate the campus community about the dangers of tobacco and nicotine delivery system products.”

Keynote addresses at the Collaborative were made by:

  • Dr. Thomas E. Dobbs, Mississippi State Health Officer

  • Dr. J. Clay Hays, Jr., President of the Mississippi State Medical Association
    who serves as the Governor’s Appointee to the Mississippi Tobacco Control
    Advisory Council

  • Jennifer Cofer, Director of the EndTobacco Program at the University of Texas
    MD Anderson Cancer Center

  • Dr. Robert McMillen, a Mississippi State University professor who provides
    surveillance and evaluation for the Mississippi State Department of Health’s
    Office of Tobacco Control

Dr. Alfred Rankins, Mississippi Commissioner of Higher Education, and Dr. Andrea Mayfield, Mississippi Community College Board Executive Director, also made remarks.

“The Collaborative was great for the living and learning environment on our university campuses,” said Dr. Rankins. “Tobacco-free campuses promote healthier lifestyles among our employees and more importantly, our students.”

“Mississippi’s workforce depends on healthy people,” added Dr. Mayfield. “Tobacco-free policies help shape campus cultures and influence healthy behaviors.”

“The information shared at the Collaborative provided insight on the addictive nature of vape products that so many of our students see as harmless,” said Dr. Regina Hyatt, Vice President of Student Affairs at Mississippi State University. “Armed with this new information, we will make intentional efforts to educate our students and assist them in making healthier choices.”

“Although our college has a tobacco-free policy, we are missing pieces of the puzzle, including providing assistance to students and employees who want to become tobacco-free,” said Julia Parker, Director of Human Resources at Copiah-Lincoln Community College. “Thanks to the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation for bringing this to our attention.”

“The Foundation’s overarching vision includes support of Mississippi’s universities and colleges as community stakeholders in their efforts to create sustainable healthy campus cultures,” said Sheila Grogan, President of the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. “The Foundation stands ready to partner with our state’s institutions of higher learning as they explore opportunities to implement and strengthen campus tobacco-free policies.”

Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi and the Foundation are working together to build a healthy, tobacco-free Mississippi.

Pictured from left to right: Sheila Grogan, Dr. Thomas C. Fenter, Dr. J. Clay Hays, Jr., Dr. Robert McMillen and Jennifer Cofer

Pictured at right: Dr. J. Clay Hays, Jr., brings awareness to the harmful impact of vape products.

Dr. Thomas E. Dobbs explains lung cancer incidence rates in Mississippi.

Pictured from left to right: Dr. Thomas E. Dobbs, Jennifer Cofer and Dr. Robert McMillen prepare to participate in a Q&A session with meeting attendees.

Dr. Thomas E. Dobbs, Jennifer Cofer and Dr. Robert McMillen participate in a Q&A session and discuss the health impact of tobacco products and ways to improve tobacco-free campus policies.

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