Tobacco-Free College Campuses

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Tobacco-free college campuses refers to colleges and universities that have implemented policies prohibiting the use of tobacco products at all indoor and outdoor campus locations. Tobacco is known to be harmful to the health of smokers, bystanders, and the environment. Since this issue was first recognized, colleges have been creating policies for tobacco use on campus in an effort to improve health standards, provide more enjoyable campus conditions, and to reduce the negative environmental effects of tobacco.


Some schools simply prohibit smoking on campus, while other schools have prohibited all forms of tobacco, cannabis, and other substances. Each college has a slightly different tobacco policy, ranging in strictness and severity. Simply banning tobacco use on campus is not the only way colleges are working to prevent tobacco use. Many schools have cessation programs and continual support for students who are trying to stop using tobacco.

A banner for a smoke-free campus


In 1986, secondhand smoke was first recognized to be a possible health risk by the Surgeon General of the United States. Four years later, in 1990, San Luis Obispo, California, became the first city in the world to completely ban smoking in all public places. In 1993, secondhand smoke was officially labeled as a deadly carcinogen by the EPA. In 1998, The State of California followed San Luis Obispo's lead, banning smoking in all public places statewide. In 2006, 20 years after Surgeon General first recognized the potential risks of secondhand smoke, they released an official report condemning secondhand smoke to be undeniably harmful to health in any form. In 2012, they released another report, which focused on the enhanced effect smoking has on youth. The same year, the first public advertising campaign was launched, showing people who had terrible diseases which were directly caused by smoking. [1]

One of the primary concerns with tobacco has been its exposure to the youth. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 out of 10 smokers tried their first cigarette before the age of 18 and 98% of smokers began before the age of 26. [2] Considering in 2012 79% of college students were aged 18–24, [3] and in 2018 61% of college students were projected to be 25 and under, [4] a recipe for continued use of tobacco products by our youth is a pressing issue.

Many colleges have also chosen to restrict the use of electronic smoking devices, such as e-cigarettes. As of April 1, 2020 there are now at least 2,490 100% smokefree campus sites. Of these, 2,065 are 100% tobacco-free and 2,097 prohibit e-cigarette use. [5] These policies are part of the tobacco control movement to reduce cigarette smoking among college students and to protect people on campus from secondhand smoke. [6]

Policies overview

A tobacco-free campus program is much more than simply drafting a policy, getting it passed, and implementing it. It is important to raise awareness about the reasons why a campus is going tobacco-free so the programs also include a large educational component. Program work should also include cessation services, or services that help interested tobacco users to quit. While the actual tobacco-free campus policy is arguably the most important piece of this work, education and cessation support policy efforts and work to further change the tobacco norms on campus. [7]

A tobacco-free policy limits or eliminates the use of any tobacco product, including, but not limited to, cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, mini-cigars, hookah, spit tobacco, snus, and other smokeless products. It also often includes innovations in smoke or tobacco products, such as electronic cigarettes. The primary concern of a tobacco-free policy is overall health and ethical behavior of the student body. Also, a comprehensive tobacco-free program may also address tobacco sales, marketing, sponsorship and investments. [8]

Policies by school

The School of Medicine of Central and Southern Illinois became Tobacco-Free in 2006 with the mission in mind over viewing an improvement in the health and well-being of the people and communities that they serve. [9]

University of California

All of the University of California (UC) campuses went tobacco free on January 1, 2004. The UC system states their reason for going 100% tobacco free as "While the use of tobacco is a personal choice, the health hazards related to smoking and exposure to second- and third-hand smoke are well-documented. These hazards can affect not only the smoker, but also the nonsmoker who is exposed to the smoke.As a leader in health care and environmental practices, the university recognizes its responsibility to exercise leadership through the creation of a smoke and tobacco-free environment for all students, employees and visitors at all UC campuses, medical centers and facilities." [10]

Statewide policies

Some states such as Louisiana have chosen to institute a statewide smoke-free policy for all educational institutions. Other states such as California have issued narrower bans. [11] [12]

Washington State Colleges

There is a total of 17 college campuses across Washington State that institute a 100% Tobacco-free campus. The rest are in the process of implementing a 100% tobacco-free policy from a smoke-free or type of tobacco-free policy, or from no policy to 100% tobacco-free policy. These campuses range from Community Colleges to Public Universities and Private Universities as well. Most schools already have a smoke-free policy and are moving towards a 100% tobacco free-policy. [13]

Florida State Colleges

There is a total of 41 college campuses in Florida that institute a 100% smoke-free college campus. Their policy entails 100% ban on the use of conventional cigarettes. Areas of the policy include the following; campuses, parking lots, college-sponsored off-campus events and campus owned vehicles. Depending on the policy, e-cigarette use may be prohibited. The type of college ranges from Community Colleges to Public Universities and Private Universities as well. While starting with this smoke-free policy, the goal is to move towards a 100% tobacco-free campus. [14]

California Community Colleges

In May 2018, the Board of Governors voted to make all California Community Colleges tobacco free. A number of California Community Colleges had already made this policy change on their campus or had been working toward the goal of a 100% smoke and tobacco free policy. The rationale of the Board of Governors to pass this included reasons such as: tobacco is responsible for about 1 in 5 deaths, there is no safe level of secondhand smoke, and smoking on campus can lead to secondhand smoke entering buildings via open doors or windows and exposure when walking by a smoker. [12]

California State Universities

In 2016, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed legislation that would have banned smoking on all California State University (CSU) campuses because he believed that these campuses could make their own individual policies. In April 2017, the CSU Chancellor's office issued an executive order making all CSU campuses smoke and tobacco free. The California State University system states that they agree with the UC system on their rationale for the 100% tobacco free campuses. [15]


In recent years, tobacco free campuses has been forefronted by the American Cancer Society's Tobacco-free Generation Campus Initiative. In cooperation with the CVS Health Foundation, since its foundation in 2016 the ACS has provided over 97 grants up to $20,000 to colleges across the country. [16]

The rising trend of university student smoking in the 1990s has declined in recent years. [17] Between 1993 to 1997, the percent of US students who smoked has increased from 22% to 28%. [18] However, between 2002 to 2016, the percentage of US college students who smoked has decreased by 47.4%. For smoking over the past 30 days, the percentage is 10.4%, while for the past 12 months, the percentage is 12.2%. [19]

Cessation programs vs. restricted availability

There are two primary devices utilized to reduce tobacco use on college campuses. One is to remove the option to smoke, and the other is to educate, inform and introduce cessation programs influencing users to quit. A 2005 study found that restriction of tobacco distribution and restriction of smoking within 20 feet of entrances were not as effective as smoking cessation programs in decreasing college students' smoking. [20] When prevention-oriented education was present on college campuses, students were 23% less likely to smoke compared to their peers who were not exposed to this kind of education. [20] [21] This can be further substantiated by a more recent study which took place from September 2013 to May 2014. The study was conducted in which 1309 students at eight California Universities were surveyed periodically to assimilate the correlation of stricter tobacco policies compared to exposure of college students to secondhand cigarette smoke. The surveys statistics indicated as policy strictness increased, exposure to secondhand smoke decreased. After 30 days, student surveys showed smoking exposure drop from 81% to 38% as anti-tobacco policies strengthened. Percentages for entirely tobacco-free campuses ran as low as 3% after 6 months. [22]

Cessation support

Many schools are helping students quit using tobacco on campus by providing counseling, online support, and nicotine replacements such as gum, patches, and lozenges. [23] A 2014 survey found that 55% of responding Student Health Center staff asked their patients about their tobacco use at every visit, and 80% offered counseling to students who wished to quit. According to this survey, 54% of health care providers were specifically trained in effective intervention. [24]

Overall student health

Although it is quite clear from numerous surveys implementing tobacco-free policies highly reduces students exposure to secondhand smoke on campuses, it may have less of an overall affect than perceived. In Fall of 2006 an online survey of 4,160 students from 10 different colleges was conducted to acquire data of when and where students were exposed to cigarette smoke. The top three answers by students were restaurants/bars (65%), at home (55%) and in a car (38%). These percentages indicate the vast majority of secondhand smoke exposure experienced by students actually occurs off campus property. When taking this into consideration, it can be suggested that although any secondhand smoke is bad, anti-tobacco policies are more beneficial to active smokers. [25]

Success of the college initiative program and need for continued support

Tobacco policies seem to be less effective in areas of poverty and in community colleges. In 2014, an observational study performed by numerous tobacco truth organizations indicated areas where progress was more inhibited than others. Data collected indicated only 19% of community colleges in the U.S. had implemented a comprehensive tobacco-free policy and only one-third of historically black colleges. In an effort to improve these low statistics, an effort called the College Initiative Program was Established which created a 5-step program which included 135 institutions to help create successful tobacco-free policies. By 2017, it was found that 87% of the 135 participating colleges had either started or finished in creating successful anti-tobacco/smoking policies. With this research, it can be seen that community colleges and poverty-stricken locations simply lack funding and opportunity to develop educational policies and programs. [26] A study published in 2020 has found that social norms, smoking status, second-hand smoke exposure, and sociodemographic factors all play a role in determining the attitudes and behaviours of students, staff and faculty towards smoke-free campuses and in turn can affect the success of tobacco-free campus initiatives. [27]

Related Research Articles

Cigarette Small roll of cut tobacco designed to be smoked

A cigarette is a narrow cylinder containing psychoactive material, typically tobacco, that is rolled into thin paper for smoking. Most cigarettes contain a "reconstituted tobacco" product known as "sheet", which consists of "recycled [tobacco] stems, stalks, scraps, collected dust, and floor sweepings", to which are added glue, chemicals and fillers; the product is then sprayed with nicotine that was extracted from the tobacco scraps, and shaped into curls. The cigarette is ignited at one end, causing it to smolder; the resulting smoke is orally inhaled via the opposite end. Most modern cigarettes are filtered, although this does not make them safer. Cigarette manufacturers have described cigarettes as a drug administration system for the delivery of nicotine in acceptable and attractive form. Cigarettes are addictive and cause cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, and other health problems.

Tobacco smoking Practice of burning tobacco and ingesting the resulting smoke

Tobacco smoking is the practice of burning tobacco and ingesting the smoke that is produced. The smoke may be inhaled, as is done with cigarettes, or simply released from the mouth, as is generally done with pipes and cigars. The practice is believed to have begun as early as 5000–3000 BC in Mesoamerica and South America. Tobacco was introduced to Eurasia in the late 17th century by European colonists, where it followed common trade routes. The practice encountered criticism from its first import into the Western world onwards but embedded itself in certain strata of a number of societies before becoming widespread upon the introduction of automated cigarette-rolling apparatus.

Smoking ban

Smoking bans, or smoke-free laws, are public policies, including criminal laws and occupational safety and health regulations, that prohibit tobacco smoking in certain areas, usually in enclosed workplaces and other public spaces. Such policies are usually enacted to protect people from the negative health effects of passive smoking or second-hand smoke (SHS) exposure.

Passive smoking Inhalation of smoke by persons other than the intended active smoker

Passive smoking is the inhalation of smoke, called secondhand smoke (SHS), or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), by persons other than the intended "active" smoker. It occurs when tobacco smoke enters an environment, causing its inhalation by people within that environment. Exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke causes disease, disability, and death. The health risks of secondhand smoke are a matter of scientific consensus. These risks have been a major motivation for smoke-free laws in workplaces and indoor public places, including restaurants, bars and night clubs, as well as some open public spaces.

Health effects of tobacco

Tobacco use has predominantly negative effects on human health and concern about health effects of tobacco has a long history. Research has focused primarily on cigarette tobacco smoking.

Smoking in Argentina

Smoking in Argentina accounts for 15% of total tobacco consumption in the americas. There are a number of smoking restrictions in place in different jurisdictions, and a nationwide governmental campaign against tobacco smoking and advertising. Since June 1, 2011 a smoking ban in all of Argentina prohibits smoking in workplaces, all public indoor areas, schools, hospitals, museums and libraries, theatres, and all public transport.

Stanton Arnold Glantz is an American professor, author, and leading tobacco control activist. Glantz is Professor of Medicine (retired) in the Division of Cardiology, the American Legacy Foundation Distinguished Professor of Tobacco Control, and former director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine. Glantz's research focused on the health effects of tobacco smoking.

Muʽassel Syrupy tobacco mixture used in hookahs

Muʽassel, or maassel, is a syrupy tobacco mix containing molasses, vegetable glycerol and various flavourings which is smoked in a hookah, a type of waterpipe. It is also known as "shisha" in Canada, USA, Brazil, Europe and the Middle East.

Tobacco control

Tobacco control is a field of international public health science, policy and practice dedicated to addressing tobacco use and thereby reducing the morbidity and mortality it causes. Since most cigarettes and cigars and hookahs contain/use tobacco tobacco control also impacts these. E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco itself, but (often) do contain nicotine. Tobacco control is a priority area for the World Health Organization (WHO), through the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. References to a tobacco control movement may have either positive or negative connotations.

Smoking in China is prevalent, as the People's Republic of China is the world's largest consumer and producer of tobacco: there are 350 million Chinese smokers, and China produces 42% of the world's cigarettes. The China National Tobacco Corporation is by sales the largest single manufacturer of tobacco products in the world and boasts a monopoly in Mainland China generating between 7 and 10% of government revenue. Within the Chinese guanxi system, tobacco is still a ubiquitous gift acceptable on any occasion, particularly outside urban areas. Tobacco control legislation does exist, but public enforcement is rare to non-existent outside the most highly internationalized cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing. Furthermore, outside the largest cities in China, smoking is considered socially acceptable anywhere at any time, even if it is technically illegal.

The majority of lifelong smokers begin smoking habits before the age of 24, which makes the college years a critical time for tobacco companies to convince college students to pick up the habit of cigarette smoking. Cigarette smoking in college is seen as a social activity by those who partake in it, and more than half of the students that are users do not consider themselves smokers. This may be because most college students plan to quit smoking by the time that they graduate.

Cigarette smoking for weight loss

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Smoking in Syria

Smoking in Syria is steadily increasing in popularity amongst the Syrian population, mainly in the forms of cigarettes or narghiles. In Syria, the General Organization of Tobacco manages the growth and exportation of tobacco products. Syrians collectively spend about $600 million per year on tobacco consumption. As of 2010, 20% of women and 60% of men smoke and 98% of the overall population is affected by passive smoking. Narghiles and cigarettes are the two main forms of tobacco consumption. Despite the assumption that smoking, specifically the narghile, is embedded in Syrian culture, this phenomenon has only recently become widespread. Health officials are currently working on smoking cessation programs and policies, to remove this idea that smoking in Syria is an essential part of the culture, to educate regarding health effects, and to prevent citizens from smoking in public places.

Smoking in Egypt

The use of tobacco products in Egypt is widespread. It is estimated that approximately twenty percent of the population uses tobacco products daily. Cigarettes are the most common form of tobacco consumption in Egypt, with an estimated twenty billion cigarettes smoked annually in the country. After cigarettes, shisha water-pipes are the most common form of tobacco consumption. Many Egyptians are not fully aware of the health risks of using a water-pipe and many believe it to be less harmful than cigarettes.

Smoking in Canada

SmokinginCanada is banned in indoor public spaces, public transit facilities and workplaces, by all territories and provinces, and by the federal government. As of 2010, legislation banning smoking within each of these jurisdictions is mostly consistent, despite the separate development of legislation by each jurisdiction. Notable variations between the jurisdictions include: whether, and in what circumstances ventilated smoking rooms are permitted; whether, and up to what distance away from a building is smoking banned outside of a building; and, whether smoking is banned in private vehicles occupied by children.

Smoking in Finland

In Finland, the smoking figures are among the lowest in Europe. There are several factors that have influenced the decrease in the smoking prevalence, such as legislative actions, health promotion and national monitoring systems, policies aimed at reducing tobacco consumption through public awareness campaigns, advertising bans and increased taxation. Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has the leading role in tobacco control in Finland, and one of their main aims is have a more effective ban on sale of tobacco products to children and young people and to prevent sale of illegal tobacco products. Among the key elements in the successful tobacco policy is the traditional collaboration between the health authorities and non-governmental organisations, and intensive health promotion.

Smoking in South Korea

Smoking in South Korea has decreased overall for both men and women in the past decades. However, a high prevalence of tobacco use is still observed, especially with the rise of novel tobacco products like e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn tobacco products. There are socioeconomic inequalities in smoking prevalence according to gender, income, education, and occupational class. Advocates call for measures to reduce the smoking rates and address smoking inequalities using a combination of monitoring and tobacco control policies. These measures include significant price hikes, mandatory warning photos on cigarette packs, advertising bans, financial incentives, medical help for quitting, and complete smoking bans in public places.

Tobacco is an agricultural product acting as a stimulant triggering complex biochemical and neurotransmitter disruptions. Its main ingredient is nicotine and it is present in all cigarettes. Early tobacco usage was for medical cures and religious purposes. In the 1990s, cigarette usage became increasingly popular when it was sold in mass amounts. The popularity of smoking increased and in 1964, the Surgeon General of the United States wrote a report concerning the dangers of cigarette smoking. In the United States, for the past 50 years efforts have been made so that the public should be aware of the risks of tobacco usage.

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The scientific community in United States and Europe are primarily concerned with the possible effect of electronic cigarette use on public health. There is concern among public health experts that e-cigarettes could renormalize smoking, weaken measures to control tobacco, and serve as a gateway for smoking among youth. The public health community is divided over whether to support e-cigarettes, because their safety and efficacy for quitting smoking is unclear. Many in the public health community acknowledge the potential for their quitting smoking and decreasing harm benefits, but there remains a concern over their long-term safety and potential for a new era of users to get addicted to nicotine and then tobacco. There is concern among tobacco control academics and advocates that prevalent universal vaping "will bring its own distinct but as yet unknown health risks in the same way tobacco smoking did, as a result of chronic exposure", among other things.


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