Dr. Marc Johnson has firsthand experience with secondhand smoke, as he and his brother grew up in a household where both parents went through cartons of cigarettes. The 72-year-old Johnson still has memories of being trapped in the backseat of a smoke-filled car in the cold Kansas winters.
“Both of my parents started smoking when they were 14, and they smoked right up until they died from tobacco-related diseases,” he shares.
He says watching them suffer toward the end of their lives was painful for everyone involved. His mother had difficulty breathing for many years before her death, and his father died of throat cancer.
While smoking was common in the ’50s and ’60s, neither he nor his brother ever took up the habit. He says growing up around it made it easy for him to discourage his three children — and now six grandchildren — from using tobacco products.
“Staying away from tobacco allows them to live the longest possible life their genetics will allow,” he says.
Protecting the University
While his personal experience was profound, Dr. Johnson’s education and career as an educator definitely reinforced his aversion to tobacco products. His advanced degrees include a Master of Economics from Michigan State University, a Master of Technology in international development from North Carolina State University and a Doctorate of Agricultural Economics from Michigan State. Johnson’s research and teaching have been based in economics, with an emphasis on national and international food distribution systems.
And as president of the University of Nevada, Reno, Dr. Johnson oversaw the campus when it officially became tobacco-free on August 1, 2015. The university was already mostly smoke-free, with only 15 percent of the student population smoking (which is below the average of 17.8 percent according to the Centers for Disease Control). Jacob Solis shares in the campus newspaper, The Nevada Sagebrush, that the initiative gained momentum in 2013 when the Student Health Center started gathering endorsements from every major group on campus including ASUN, the Graduate Student Association, the Faculty Senate and the President’s Office.
“We are an institution with a medical school, a nursing school and a public health school,” Johnson says. “We know the science shows that the use of tobacco, secondhand smoke, vaping and smokeless tobacco are leading causes of heart failure, renal and respiratory problems. Therefore, we choose to be a tobacco-free campus.”
Protecting the Community
Understanding that smoking affects the health of more than just the person partaking, the University came on board as a partner with Smoke Free Truckee Meadows in early 2020.
When the Nevada Clean Indoor Act was passed in 2006, it protected Nevadans from secondhand smoke in almost every business. Some very notable exclusions included casinos and stand-alone bars. Smoke Free Truckee Meadows is a coalition of organizations, businesses and individuals that believe the community needs a law protecting every employee in the Truckee Meadows from secondhand tobacco smoke and vapor.
While Johnson would not support a law telling people they can’t smoke, he feels it is an employers’ obligation to protect the health of their employees and customers.
“When you have smoking in the workplace, it affects productivity,” he says. “If people want to smoke, they can do it at home. But the workplace should be controlled for productivity and the creation of a pleasant atmosphere for employees and customers.”
He says that while smoking has always been dangerous for smokers and those around them, COVID-19 has added an additional health risk.
“When you’re exhaling smoke, you’re taking off your mask but you’re also potentially blowing the virus into the air, so the six-foot distancing rule doesn’t help,” he says.
In addition to the aesthetic and health benefits of protecting casino and bar employees from secondhand smoke, Johnson sees smoke-free environments as a natural extension of the Northern Nevada region’s brand.
“The direction of this economy is to support individual outdoor sports,” he says. “It’s mountain biking, it’s hiking. It’s running in the mountains, skiing — and that kind of physical activity does not set well with smoking. So if you really want to promote the area as an outdoor sports area, we need to provide more smoke-free environments.”
He has seen the economic impact of smoking first-hand. “We host many conferences, and virtually every one of the organizers who contact us say that they want to put their participants in a smoke-free environment,” he says. “So the hotels they choose for their meetings are typically smoke-free.”
Unfortunately, since most of the bigger hotels allow smoking, the region is not as attractive for large national conferences. “We typically have small regional or small research group meetings,” he says.
If you agree that we need to protect the health of 40,000 Truckee Meadows employees, while also establishing a new, healthier brand for Northern Nevada, please visit smokefreetruckeemeadows.org/get-involved to find out what you can do. And let your local lawmakers (Reno, Sparks, Washoe County) know that you support them in protecting your fellow Truckee Meadows residents. Your neighbors will thank you.