MyStudentBody - Smoke-Free Campuses

Smoke-Free Campuses

A sign reading City Ordinance No Smoking Within 15 Feet of This Entrance

Nearly 600 U.S. colleges and universities had adopted 100% smoke-free or tobacco-free policies by the end of 2011, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, up from just 60 schools in 2007. Over 900 have smoke-free policies with some exemptions.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has classified second-hand tobacco smoke as a Class A carcinogen—a substance that has been shown to cause cancer in humans. So it makes sense to ban smoking on campus to reduce the risks of second-hand smoke for everyone—students, staff, and visitors.

For college smokers there's another danger: They're at risk of developing a lifelong addiction. Eighty-five percent of adult smokers start before age 21, and The American Cancer Society reports that the prevalence of smoking in the United States is highest among those of college age—though college students are less likely to smoke than their peers who are not in school. As of 2006, 19.6% of 18-to-22 year old college students smoked, compared to 35.7% of those in the same age range who were not full-time students.

The American Lung Association has documented that the tobacco industry targets people in the college age group in the hope of attracting new smokers. According to the Lung Association report, Big Tobacco On Campus, the tobacco industry "recognized that young adults are going through a transition period in their life [and] developing and cementing new behaviors, including smoking." Cigarette companies "exploit vulnerability among young adults by sponsoring promotions in bars, nightclubs, and other venues to encourage smoking as a social norm."

In the past, the strategy seems to have worked. In one study of student smoking, one in five occasional smokers became daily smokers over the course of four years in college; the number who smoked for the first time also increased.

But there's growing evidence that students who live in smoke-free residence halls are less likely to start smoking or increase the amount they smoke.

A recent study compared two Indiana universities, one of which (Indiana University) had instituted a smoke-free campus in 2008 and one (Purdue) that had not. During the period of the study, which ran from fall 2007 (before the smoking ban) to fall 2009, the percentage of smokers among students dropped 3.7 points, to 12.8 % at Indiana University (IU), and increased slightly at Purdue, to 10.1%. The number of cigarettes IU students smoked per day also fell, to 5.9, while Purdue students smoked more: 6.8.

Student perceptions of smoking rates among their peers changed, too. Asked if they thought 26% or more of their fellow students smoked, 73.6% of IU students said yes in 2007, but only 66.8% said yes in 2009. Among Purdue students, the percentage rose to 34.4 % in 2009.

A 2004 study of the impact of smoke-free residence halls at three universities found few negatives. The schools in the study did not report significant resistance to the policy from students or alumni. Administrators said the economic burden was minimal, and was offset by benefits including:

  • Decreased damage to residence hall buildings
  • Fewer fire alarms
  • Fewer student roommate conflicts
  • Less student attrition

Getting Started

Bacchus and Gamma's TobaccoFreeU provides a manual for moving toward a smoke-free campus. The American Cancer Society also has resources for building community support for a nonsmoking college environment.

As with most major policy initiatives, the best starting point is to form a task force made up of those who will be affected by the change—residence coordinators, student organizations, faculty, and staff. It's also important to identify smoking patterns on your campus, and determine which groups tend to smoke more.

Secondly, successful programs begin with education. Spread the word about any planned changes to campus smoking policy well in advance. Before the policy takes effect, make smoking cessation programs available and promote them widely. Make sure that everyone on campus also knows the fine print, including:

  • How the policy will be enforced
  • Who will be enforcing it
  • What the penalties are for violations

Finally, emphasize that the policy applies to everyone—not just students.


American Cancer Society. (2011). Tobacco-free U: New York State Colleges Expel Tobacco. Retrieved November 30, 2011, from 

American Lung Association. (2008). Big Tobacco on Campus: Ending the Addiction. Retrieved November 30, 2011, from 

American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation. (2009). Steps for Enacting a Smokefree College Campus Policy. Retrieved November 30, 2011, from

Bacchus and Gamma Peer Education Network. (2002).Journey of a lifetime: One step at a time to a tobacco-free campus. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from

Clarkin PF, Tisch LA, Glicksman AS. (2008). Socioeconomic Correlates of Current and Regular Smoking Among College Students in Rhode Island. Journal of American College Health, 57(2), 183-190. DOI: 10.3200/JACH.57.2.183-190.

Fortin J. Smoke-free college trend growing. (2007). CNN. Retrieved November 30, 2011 from 

Education Development Center. (2005, January 1). Smoke-free dorms on campus. Retrieved November 30, 2011, from 

Gerson M, Allard J, and Gomberg L. (2004). Impact of Smoke-Free Residence Hall Policies: The Views of Administrators at Three State Universities. American Legacy Foundation. Retrieved November 30, 2011, from

Loukas A, Garcia M, Gottlieb N. (2006, July/August). Texas college students' opinions of no-smoking policies, secondhand smoke, and smoking in public places. Journal of American College Health, 55(1), 27-32.

Seo DC, Macy JT, Torabi MR Middlestadt SE. (2011). The effect of a smoke-free campus policy on college students' smoking behaviors and attitudes. Preventive Medicine. 2011 Oct;53(4-5):347-52. Retrieved online December 1, 2011, from