Tobacco Free College Campuses Resources, Tools and Support to Keep Students Healthy at School

The initiative to make our nation’s colleges and universities completely smoke and tobacco free continues to grow. In October of 2017, more than 2,000 campuses nationwide were completely smoke free. That figure is up 252 percent from just 6 years earlier, and it’s expected to continue a sharp upward trajectory as more colleges embrace the movement to create smoke-free environments for students.

Adults ages 18-29 are among the biggest users of cigarettes, which closely mirrors the age demographic of college students. We created this guide to help college students better understand why colleges and universities are choosing to go smoke free, and to provide a wealth of additional smoking-related resources for students. Read on to learn more about tobacco-free campuses, tips to quit smoking, and resources for student leaders to bring the tobacco-free movement to their campus.

Meet the Expert

Kristina Hamilton Director of health promotion for the American Lung Association

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What Students Need to Know about Tobacco- and Smoke-Free Campuses

Creating smoke- and tobacco-free environments for students is much more than an initiative to appease non-smokers who can’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke. It’s about preserving and protecting the health of younger adults who make up the largest demographic of students, as well the rights of non-smokers from being exposed to secondhand smoke.

In fall of 2017, more than 20.4 million students enrolled in colleges and universities across America. More than 40 percent of all college students are between the ages of 18 and 24, the National Center for Education Statistics reports. The health risks and chronic conditions associated with smoking are well documented. However, research shows that people who quit smoking before the age of 30 almost completely eliminate increased risk of mortality due to diseases brought on by smoking and tobacco use. That’s why more and more college campuses are creating tobacco- and smoke-free environments and are providing additional resources to help students kick their smoking, vaping and chewing habits.

College smoke-free and anti-smoking policies often mirror local or statewide policies which restrict these activities in public places, such as public buildings, restaurants and bars. However, these policies are far more effective when they are enacted on a campus-wide level. Campuses that are 100 percent smoke free can reduce student tobacco use twice as much campuses that merely restrict smoking and tobacco use to certain areas.

What it means to be a smoke/tobacco-free campus.

In fall of 2009, the American College Health Association published guidelines for creating smoke-free campuses under its Position Statement on Tobacco on College and University Campuses. The guidelines suggest colleges should:

  • Prohibit use of all tobacco and associated products (primarily cigarettes, e-cigarettes and chew) on all campus grounds and facilities.
  • Prevent sale of all tobacco-related products and merchandise on campus.
  • Eliminate or remove all tobacco-industry advertising, promotions and marketing from campus literature.
  • Remove all athletic sponsorship from tobacco-related companies.
  • Refuse future funding from tobacco companies.

Big Tobacco continues to market its unhealthy products to millions of younger adults, but colleges, universities, administrators and students are fighting back. Around 2,064 of the nation’s more than 4,700 degree-granting postsecondary institutions have enacted smoke-free policies. Clearly, American colleges are taking a stand and changing the rules when it comes smoking and tobacco use on campus grounds.

Why going tobacco free is important for colleges.

As noted, the majority of college students are between the ages of 18 and 24. Research shows that 99 percent of all smokers begin using tobacco products by the age of 26. College students often begin smoking while at parties or social events. These intermittent smoking habits often lead to long-term tobacco dependency and subsequent adverse health issues. Colleges are getting behind tobacco-free initiatives and prevention strategies because embracing smoke-free initiatives creates a positive social environment for all students and enforces positive choices and behaviors.

Risks of Tobacco & Rewards of Stopping Tobacco Use

There are a multitude of known health risks clearly linked to tobacco use. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, and 69 of them are known carcinogens – substances that can cause cancer in living tissues.

Smoking cigarettes harms almost every organ in our bodies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Known health risks of smoking and tobacco use include:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Lung cancer, emphysema and bronchitis
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Many other forms of cancer

Here are a few scary facts: One of every three deaths by cancer in the U.S. could be prevented by quitting smoking. Cigarette smoking is the primary cause of more than 480,000 deaths each year in the U.S. – that’s the entire metropolitan population of cities such as Long Beach, Atlanta, Miami, Oakland or Cleveland. It’s also the cause of more preventable deaths than combined deaths attributed to HIV, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, alcohol, motor vehicle accidents and firearms.

Let’s take a closer look at the most prevalent tobacco delivery methods, their associated health risks, and the many health rewards tobacco users can expect to experience upon cessation:

Smoke Free & Tobacco Free: What’s the Difference?

There’s a few differences between a smoke-free campus and a tobacco-free campus. Let’s look at what each term truly means.

Tobacco free

According to the American College Health Association, a tobacco-free campus is one that has adopted a policy of a 100-percent ban on the use of any form of tobacco on campus grounds, facilities and dormitories. This includes a campus-wide ban on use of cigarettes, chew, vape pens, e-cigarettes, cigars and any other form of tobacco.

Smoke free

Campuses that have gone smoke free have adopted policies that restrict use of cigarettes. However, these regulations don’t address use of other forms of tobacco, such as dip or vape pens. The American Lung Association says that campus policies that only prohibit use of cigarettes on campus grounds may actually lead to an increased use of unsafe alternatives to cigarette smoking such as chew or e-cigarettes.

Resources for Helping Students Quit Smoking & Tobacco Use

Overcoming nicotine dependence can be extremely difficult – more people in the U.S. are addicted to nicotine than any other drug, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. How difficult is it to kick the habit? Research suggests it’s just as hard to get off nicotine as it is alcohol, heroin or cocaine. Withdrawal symptoms range from mild to debilitating – that’s why so many people relapse and need several attempts at quitting before it finally sticks.

Quitting smoking may sound daunting, but there’s help! Many different treatment methods are available to help smokers and tobacco users kick the habit. The section below takes a closer look at smoking and tobacco cessation methods available to students.

Campus resources

College campuses, especially those that have initiated tobacco-free policies, provide many different resources to help students quit using tobacco products. For instance, the University of System of Georgia provides a helpline with a personal quit coach, an online program, and cessation classes. Other colleges, such as Delaware State University, offer students tobacco cessation counseling through the student health services department. Washington College offers a free 5-week smoking cessation program that includes nicotine replacement tools such as gum, patches and Chantix. Students interested in quitting can check with their campus health services to see what options are available.

There are numerous organizations that have programs to help students kick the habit. These include:

Smokers sometimes need help quitting. The American Cancer Society’s Quit For Life Program provides quit coaches that can help smokers accomplish their cessation goals. Many colleges also have similar resources. The University of California at San Francisco, for instance, provides access to quit coaches through its Smoking Cessation Leadership Center. Students struggling to overcome the debilitating effects of nicotine withdrawal can inquire with their medical provider about a wide range of prescription drugs to help them quit tobacco.

Of course there’s an app for that. Smoking cessation apps available from Google Play or the iTunes app store include:

  • NCI QuitPal. Free app from the National Cancer Institute.
  • QuitStart. Free app targeted to young adults that tracks cravings, moods, triggers, etc.
  • QuitGuide. App developed by cessation counselors, tobacco control professionals and ex smokers.
  • QuitNow! Offers many different tracking features, including time since last cigarette, money saved, and help to cope with the anxiety and stress of quitting.
  • Smoke Free. Popular app developed by smoking cessation specialists.

Nicotine sinks its hooks deep into a smoker’s body, and the physical withdrawal symptoms can be extremely difficult to overcome. The Food and Drug Administration has approved six nicotine therapy medications to help people quit smoking. They include:

  • Varenicline (Chantix). A non-nicotine tablet medication available by prescription.
  • Nicotine patch (NicoDerm CQ). Available over the counter. Provides small, steady dose of nicotine to help ease withdrawal symptoms.
  • Nicotine gum/lozenges (Nicorette). Releases small doses of nicotine into the body through the lining of the mouth.
  • Nicotine Inhaler/Nicotine Nasal spray (Nicotrol). Both available by prescription. Delivers instant dose of nicotine when smokers feel urge to light up.
  • Bupropion (Zyban). Prescription drug that decreases cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Even smokers who go cold turkey can use a leg up. Homeopathic remedies include heavy consumption of water to help the body flush toxins, ginger to overcome nausea, Vitamins A, C and E, Ginseng to fight cravings, and grape juice to help the body detoxify.

Colleges Doing Tobacco Free Right

For many colleges, the days of knots of students huddled in groups outside and sharing cigarettes between classes are gone. Thousands of colleges and universities across the U.S. have embraced the tobacco-free movement. Here’s a look at 10 of them:

  • College of the Redwoods Community College District, Northern California

    The entire district is smoke free. Smoking and use of electronic smoking devices is prohibited on all campus spaces and all district-owned vehicles. The district provides resources and a list of treatment centers for students who wish to kick the habit.

  • University of Tampa

    Not only has University of Tampa in Florida enacted policies that prohibit use of tobacco and any tobacco products on campus, it’s policy clearly states that the rights of non-smokers to breathe smoke-free air trumps that of a smoker’s desire to have a cigarette.

  • University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

    Actually, most colleges and universities in Arkansas are smoke free – the Arkansas Clean Air on Campus Act of 2009 mandates that smoking is prohibited at all state-supported postsecondary institutions. An amendment in 2015 added e-cigarettes to the ban.

  • Chicago State University

    Like Arkansas, public institutions in Illinois are required to be smoke-free under the Smoke-Free Campus Act. The prohibition went into effect in July of 2015.

  • Valparaiso University

    VU established guidelines for a smoke-free campus in 1993. It has since updated its original policy to include use of any tobacco-related product.

  • Xavier University

    Xavier created a Tobacco Free Living/Fresh Campus Action Committee to raise general awareness of the university’s ban on tobacco and tobacco products. Faculty members and staff are encouraged to explain the policy at the beginning of each class term and at all new student/employee orientations.

  • Maine Maritime Academy

    Enforcement of this institution’s smoke- and tobacco-free policy is the shared responsibility of the entire campus community. Academy guidelines state that members of the campus community who see someone breaking the rules are asked to inform the offender of the academy policies in an educational and non-confrontational manner.

  • Northeastern University

    The university’s campus-wide ban on smoking – it doesn’t extend to chew – includes a public sidewalk on Leon Street in the city of Boston since it’s owned by the university. However, the university can’t enforce its ban on public sidewalks or streets that traverse or abut the university – and there are several, such as Columbus Avenue, Ruggles Street and Huntington Avenue.

  • Minnesota West Community and Technical College

    In an odd compromise, the college prohibits use of tobacco products in all college facilities, grounds and vehicles, but tobacco use is permitted in personal vehicles on campus grounds.

  • The City University of New York

    CUNY enacted a smoking ban on campus in September of 1994. It was amended in 2011 to include all CUNY facilities and jurisdictions, making the CUNY system the largest smoke-free university system in the U.S.

Students can learn more about the many smoke- and tobacco-free campuses and their policies by scanning through a comprehensive list compiled by the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation.

Smokeless Tobacco:
E-Cigarettes and Vaping: What’s the Big Deal?

Smoke free doesn’t always equate to tobacco free. E-cigarettes and vaping are notably less dangerous than cigarettes, but they still have many of the same adverse health risks. Here are three reasons why many campuses have made the decision to add e-cigarettes and vaping to policies that ban tobacco use on campus.

  1. E-cigarettes contain nicotine. This highly addictive substance causes elevated levels of dopamine and stimulates release of the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline). The repeated stimulation can trigger risk of addiction to other drugs that produce the same effects.
  2. They are harmful. E-cigarette and vape smoke expose the lungs to many known carcinogens and toxins.
  3. They are marketed to youth. Eye-catching packaging and fruity flavors appeal to teens. Youths who start vaping often begin smoking cigarettes – 30 percent of e-cig users started smoking just six months later, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports.

An Expert Weighs In

Kristina Hamilton works as director of health promotion for the American Lung Association and has also served as senior manager for the ALA’s tobacco control and lung health programs. Hamilton weighs in on the dangers of tobacco use and the importance of smoke- and tobacco-free initiatives for colleges and universities.

What are the risks of tobacco use among college students?

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States. Each year, an estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and another 8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking. Despite these risks, approximately 46.6 million U.S. adults smoke cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco, cigars and pipes also have deadly consequences, including lung, larynx, esophageal and oral cancers.

Smoking patterns continue to change and evolve during the transition from adolescence to adulthood, and the tobacco industry knows this. An industry document states, “The 10 years following the teenage years is the period during which average daily consumption per smoker increases to the average adult level.” The overall success for tobacco prevention in future depends in part on success with young adults.

How is Big Tobacco working to increase its footprint at postsecondary institutions?

In recent years, tobacco companies have increased their presence on campus through partnerships and financial support of colleges and universities. Colleges tend to welcome these partnerships, as financial hardships in higher education persist. Since tobacco companies are legal organizations that can provide seemingly endless financial support, campus administrations generally do not see the conflict in accepting support from the industry.

Why are college students an important customer base for tobacco companies?

The tobacco industry has heavily targeted the young adult population in its marketing for decades, and its efforts have gained results. During the 1990s the young adult population became an important target of the tobacco industry. The industry’s increased focus on 18-24 year olds came quickly after the signing of a multi-state tobacco settlement in 1998, known as the Master Settlement Agreement. As a part of the MSA, the tobacco industry publicly agreed to change the way they marketed and advertised their products. Specifically, U.S. tobacco companies agreed to no longer legally target youth under the age of 18.

10 Steps to Creating a Tobacco-Free Campus

Tired of walking through clouds of choking cigarette smoke on your way to class? These 10 tips can help students work with their peers and campus officials to create a smoke-free or tobacco-free campus.

  1. Find out who the decision makers are

    Students first need to understand which administrator(s) have the power to enact a campus-wide ban on tobacco use. Request a meeting, or gather email addresses to pass along information.

  2. Understand the administrative process

    How do campus decision makers go about enacting campus-wide policies?

  3. Prepare

    Arm yourself with all the pertinent information you can find about the harmful effects of second-hand smoke and how similar smoke-free policies have been enacted at other campuses. Create a set of talking points that includes key statistics (many of which can be found on this page).

  4. Develop a plan

    Student leaders can prepare a written plan to present to school administration. The Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights group has developed smoke-free campus policy guidelines and tobacco-free policy guidelines students can use

  5. Survey students and faculty

    Most movements happen because of widespread support. Poll the student body and professors/faculty to determine general support levels for a campus smoking ban. Be well-rounded and represent a wide age demographic, and be sure to include input from both smokers and non-smokers.

  6. Start rocking the movement!

    Be proactive. Engage editors and reporters at the university newspaper to drum up support for the initiative. They can write educational articles about current campus smoking policies, negative effects of secondhand smoke, and how peer universities changed their smoking policies.

  7. Hold rallies

    Find like-minded students willing to stump for the creation of a smoke-free campus. Set up at a high-profile area on campus – with proper permissions, of course – and pass out literature that supports the cause to build a grassroots support base.

  8. Make it personal

    People love stories about personal triumph. Connect with students and faculty who overcame their nicotine addictions and have them write letters to the editor or campus administrators about how kicking the habit changed their lives.

  9. Get social

    Spread the word through social media.

  10. Assess the situation

    After completing steps 1-9, students should have a clear idea where the issue of a campus-wide ban on tobacco products stands. Continue engaging students and campus leaders until a vote on the issue or ban becomes a reality.

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