Many Colleges Banning Smoking on Campus

Oct 3, 2012, 2:25 PM

Public health experts hope high school juniors and seniors will add another question to their list as they begin to visit colleges this year: is the campus smoke free?

According to the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative—launched last month at the University of Michigan by the Department of Health and Human Services along with private, public and education partners—about 17 percent of colleges and universities in the United States already have tobacco-free (no form of tobacco allowed) or smoke-free (no cigarettes allowed) policies, and more schools are moving toward such policies.

Cynthia Hallett, executive director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights in Berkeley, Calif., says the trend toward eliminating smoking on college campuses began in the early 2000s. Before then, says Hallett, skepticism over student and faculty interest may have kept the schools from initiating policies against smoking. “With so many campuses now [outlawing smoking] and the growing number of resources available, such as model policies and guidelines for implementation and enforcement, it is becoming much easier for colleges and universities to initiate smoke- and tobacco-free policies,” Hallett says.

Hallett says effective arguments to push colleges toward tobacco-free campuses include:

  • Tobacco use initiation peaks from 18 to 25 years of age. College attendance could be a turning point in choosing not to use tobacco.
  • According to a recent report from the U.S. Surgeon General, about 25 percent of full-time college students aged 18 to 22 years old were current smokers in 2010.
  • The number of smokers who initiated smoking after age 18 increased from 600,000 in 2002 to 1 million in 2010.   
  • Progression from occasional to daily smoking almost always occurs by age 26, and curbing tobacco influence on campuses could prevent a new cohort of lifetime smokers.

Recent campus initiatives to help students stop or never start smoking include:

  • The University of Kentucky has an aggressive tobacco-free policy, which was implemented in 2009. Current efforts focus on educating new students about the policy each year and using innovative approaches to smoking cessation including mobile apps. The university also has faculty and students who are part of the Tobacco-Free Take Action volunteer group, who approach smokers and request they put out their cigarette, and also offer resources to help the smoker quit.
  • Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania, only seven years old, has always been smoke free and its age gives it an edge over many other universities in that respect, according to a university spokesman.
  • City Colleges of Chicago, which has 120,000 students, implemented a 100-percent tobacco-free policy across its seven campuses last month. The policy includes offering students a smoking cessation program called “Courage to Quit.” The college system conducted a survey that found that 85 percent of students, faculty and staff respondents believe a tobacco-free policy would improve health for staff and students. The policy is the first component in City Colleges’ overall Healthy Campus initiative, which will also include healthy and affordable food choices, green initiatives and healthy activities.
  • In January 2012, University of California President Mark Yudof announced that all 10 University of California campuses would become smoke-free as of January 2014. University Student Health Services offers an individual tobacco cessation program that helps students identify triggers, reasons for quitting, and barriers to quitting as well as a variety of quitting techniques.

>>Bonus Link: Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights maintains a list of colleges and universities with smoke-free policies. 

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.