Movement Grows for Tobacco-Free Colleges and Universities

September 14, 2012


The movement to require tobacco-free college and university campuses is gaining steam across the United States.

All told, some 774 college and university campuses now have smoke-free policies, according to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.  Of these, 562 have a 100 percent tobacco-free policy.

Further boosting the campaign, education and public health leaders this week gathered at the University of Michigan to announce the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative. The initiative’s goal: To promote the adoption and implementation of comprehensive tobacco-policies at institutions of higher learning across the nation. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is proud to be a partner in this effort.

U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh joined University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman, tobacco policy experts and educational leaders to announce the initiative.

“We are witnessing a public health evolution to make smoking history and protect people from tobacco dependence so that they have a fighting chance to enjoy their full potential for health,” Dr. Koh said.  “Implementing this initiative will bring us closer to a world where tobacco-related illness is uncommon and lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in the country, is rare.  The work starts now – join us in the movement to create tobacco-free campuses for all.”

Tobacco-free campus policies protect the health of students and university employees and help reduce tobacco use among a population that is heavily targeted by the tobacco industry.

As the latest U.S. Surgeon General’s report on tobacco concluded earlier this year, tobacco prevention efforts must focus both on kids and young adults as almost no one starts smoking after age 25. The report found that nearly 9 out of 10 smokers started smoking by age 18, and 99 percent started by age 26. Progression from occasional smoking to daily smoking almost always occurs by age 26.

Twenty million students, about a third of all young adults in this country, are enrolled in higher education. Through their campus policies, colleges and universities have a unique opportunity to influence a student's daily life, said Clifford Douglas, director of U-Michigan’s Tobacco Research Network and a lecturer in tobacco and public health policy at the Michigan School of Public Health. He serves as an adviser on tobacco control policy to Dr. Koh and is a leader of the tobacco-free campus initiative.

If the trend of tobacco-free campuses sounds surprising, view it in context. The world has changed dramatically in the past 20 years.  Back then, Americans went to the library for newspaper articles, barely had any cell phones, dialed a telephone to transmit a document electronically, carried beepers – and smoked everywhere.

In contrast, many of today’s college students have grown up entirely with smoke-free workplaces and public places, as noted by Kiah Abbey, president of the Associated Students of Montana State University, in a USA TODAY story:

“With our generation, (smoking bans are) a given. We never had the opportunity to smoke in a building.  We never had the opportunity to smoke on an airplane.  Few of us smoke in our home. (The prohibition) seems like a natural progression of the community outlook on tobacco use.”