Breathe easy: How colleges and universities are tackling tobacco use and secondhand smoke

Do you know what the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death is, in the United States?

Each year in the United States, cigarette smoking causes an estimated 480,000 deaths, including approximately 41,000 deaths from secondhand smoke exposure among nonsmoking adults. And, that isn’t even counting the 16 million Americans living with a disease caused by smoking.

The question is, what do we do about it?

tobacco-free campuses graphColleges and universities across the country are taking steps towards reducing the number of deaths caused by cigarette smoking by prohibiting tobacco use everywhere on their campuses. By implementing smoke- and tobacco-free policies, colleges and universities are creating healthy places for their campus community to learn, live, work and play. Across the United States the implementation of smoke- and tobacco-free policies at college and university campuses have been on the rise. Tobacco-free and smoke-free college and university campuses more than doubled from 2012-2017. A recent study by the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that as of November 2017, at least 2,082 U.S. college and university campuses were smoke-free (completely prohibited smoking) and 1,743 were tobacco-free (completely prohibited both smokeless tobacco use and combustible tobacco product smoking) in all indoor and outdoor areas. Out of the 1,743 tobacco-free campuses, 1,658 specifically prohibited e-cigarette use, and 854 specifically prohibited hookah smoking. In 2012, only 774 colleges and universities were identified as having a smoke-free campus policy, 562 of which were tobacco-free.

Why do smoke- and tobacco-free policies at colleges and universities matter?start smoking before 26

 A staggering 99% of adult cigarette smokers first start smoking before age 26 and many smokers transition to regular, daily cigarette use during young adulthood. Colleges and universities represent a prime environment where tobacco-free policy can make a tremendous impact on preventing young adults from using tobacco. In addition to helping to reduce smoking rates, smoke- and tobacco-free policies change attitudes toward tobacco use, helping to reduce its social acceptability, and they also make it easier for current smokers to quit.

Not only do students benefit from smoke- and tobacco-free policies at their school, but faculty, staff, and guests do, too. These policies help protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke exposure. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, there is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke.

tobacco-free campus bubbles

Need another reason to support smoke- and tobacco-free policies? Each year, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered around the world, making them the most littered item on the planet. Smoke- and tobacco-free policies reduce cigarette litter, the risk of fires on campus, and they can cut maintenance costs.

laptop with books

Are King County colleges and universities going tobacco-free?

Yes! Seattle University implemented a 100% tobacco-free policy on their campus in 2015. In 2017, after the policy had only been in place for 2 years, data from the 2017 National College Health Assessment showed a 48% reduction in daily cigarette use on Seattle University’s campus. This contributed to an overall 46% reduction in cigarette use on campus within the last month. Tobacco-free policy works to help decrease tobacco use on college campuses.

Seattle Pacific University,  Green River College and North Seattle College are also 100% tobacco-free!


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I want my campus to go tobacco-free, what can I do?

Interested in a tobacco-free campus? Our Tobacco and Vapor Prevention program can help you get started on creating a tobacco-free campus.

Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Communicate early and often: consider holding campus events to help spread the word and increase awareness about your intention to create a tobacco-free campus.
  • Form a committee: include individuals from all different areas of campus life.
  • Involve students in the process: student leaders are critical to help create buy in to the policy on campus.
  • Students, you can start the tobacco-free conversation!
  • Offer cessation resources to the campus community (contact us: we can help provide tobacco cessation training or workshops).
  • Talk to your neighbors: get advice from King County colleges and universities that have become tobacco-free! We can help connect you.
  • Don’t forget to apply for resources: Grants can help when it comes to spreading awareness about a new policy and purchasing tobacco-free signage. The American Lung Association’s Students Against Nicotine Dependency has a grant opportunity to fund student-led tobacco prevention projects available right now! Need the application? Let us know. The deadline is October 10th, 2018.

Read our Creating a tobacco free campus: A policy guide and contact with any questions.

Originally posted on October 4, 2018.

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