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Don’t Light Up Here: College Campuses Ban Smoking

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“It’s like high school with ashtrays!” has been a comical misconception about community college for decades, but it looks like those ashtrays are disappearing.

According to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, over 460 colleges and universities in the United States have enacted 100% smoke-free policies. In 2005, just 18 colleges were smoke-free.

Campus Smoking Bans on the Rise

Just days ago, the trustees of the City University of New York voted to forbid smoking on all 23 of its campuses, reports the New York Times. To allow adequate time for educational campaigns and the posting of no-smoking signs, campuses have until September 2012 to impose the no-smoking policies, but campuses are free to forbid smoking before the deadline. CUNY, the largest urban higher-education system in the country, is the latest in a recent wave of campus smoking bans.

CUNY’s most urban colleges in Manhattan may not notice much of a difference because the university cannot prohibit smoking on public sidewalks. The ban will be felt more on campuses with ample green space between buildings, like City College, Queens College, College of Staten Island and Lehman College.

Smoking Restrictions Have Limited Success

Some colleges have tried creating smoke-free “buffer zones” so people don’t have to walk through smoke to get into and out of school buildings, but these efforts often have limited success. “We have a 25-feet smoke-free boundary around campus buildings,” Julee Stearns, health-promotion specialist at the University of Montana’s Curry Health Center, told TIME in December 2009. “But what’s 25 feet to some people isn’t necessarily 25 feet to others.”

An all-out campus ban removes the need for guesstimating.

The University at Buffalo, which is the largest institution in the State University of New York system, made the decision to ban smoking on all three campuses after implementing a restriction on smoking within 100 feet of buildings, reports the New York Times.

Colleges Stress that Smoking Bans are Not Punishment

“As an educator of future physicians, we teach our students to encourage their patients not to use tobacco,” Joseph A. Brennan, a spokesman for the University at Buffalo, told the New York Times. “So we should walk our talk and ban ourselves.”

On July 1, 2010, the University of Florida became a tobacco-free campus. Students, faculty, staff and visitors are prohibited from using any form of tobacco products while on the UF campus, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes.

“Contrary to popular belief, we’re not trying to punish people,” UF spokesman Steve Orlando, who was on the board that approved the ban, told the Gainesville Sun when the ban took effect. “We’re just trying to help people live healthier lifestyles.”

The University of South Florida in Tampa is considering following in UF’s footsteps. Smoking bans are currently in place in buildings, but the university has called for a special task force to smoke out exactly what it would take to issue the campus-wide smoking ban, reports Fox 13 News.

One USF student believes that “the ban would be nice because today I saw someone throw a butt in the grass without even turning it off.”

Enforcing Smoking Bans is Tough

The hardest problem with a total smoking ban is actually enforcing it.

“Our campus is about 1,800 acres, so to think that we could keep track of who is smoking on campus at any given time isn’t really feasible,” Joni Troester, director of the University of Iowa’s campus wellness program, told TIME in 2009.

“We don’t have a desire to give tickets or levy punishments,” Robert Winfield, the school’s chief health officer, explained. “We want to encourage people to stop smoking, set a good example for students and make this a healthier community.”

Before UF became a tobacco-free campus, smoking was not allowed within 50 feet of any building on campus.“I just smile and keep smoking,” one UF employee told ABC News before the total ban took effect. “There’s not much they can really do. My bosses get on me about it, but if I’m on break, I’m not on the clock. They can’t really do anything to me.” He said he had no plans to stop smoking on campus when the tobacco ban took effect— unless the enforcement became stricter.

In 2009, Santa Rosa Junior College “became stricter.” The California school adopted the Santa Rosa city ordinance that states there can be no smoking in certain places such as public use areas. Because the college fell under the public use category, it was able to adopt the city ordinance, giving district police the authority to issue tickets to anyone caught smoking on campus.

Requesting Smoke-Free Policies

The Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights reports that students on college campuses across the country are leading efforts to refuse tobacco industry sponsorship, grants, donations and other gifts, as well as passing smoke-free campuses policies.

For information on initiating a smoke-free policy at your college, visit Steps for Enacting a Smokefree College Campus Policy.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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