Twenty years ago, the idea of a tobacco-free campus was all but laughable, particularly in a state that consumes as much of the product as North Carolina does. But as 1,182 institutions of higher learning are now smoke-free, portions of Elon Univeristy are ready to jump on the bandwagon.
Over the last two years, the number of smoke-free campuses nationally has almost doubled from 586 in October 2011, according to the National Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative (NTFCCI).
Elon’s current policy regarding tobacco states, “Elon University is a smoke-free campus with respect to all facilities, except outdoor facilities. Smoking is not permitted within 30 feet of university buildings or in Rhodes Stadium.”
The university expects smokers to deposit waste in the proper receptacles in order to maintain a litter-free campus.
Though Elon is surrounded by old tobacco money — Duke University was built on the crop — the university will keep up with nationally developing standards, according to Julie Lellis, assistant professor of communications and instructor of Health Communications.
“Despite the tobacco culture in North Carolina, I think Elon will try to keep up with what other universities are doing,” Lellis said.
NTFCCI, made up of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the American College Association and the University of Michigan, encourages universities to adopt tobacco-free policies.
Putting an end to tobacco addiction is the initiative’s main purpose, by stopping young adults from smoking in order to prevent them from becoming addicted.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, almost no smokers become addicted after the age of 25. The Initiative aims to reduce the 18.9 percent of people aged 18-24 who smoke or are addicted.
Elon has its own in-house programs to curb smoking use on campus by students, faculty and staff. The Health Center offers appointments to design quitting plans, as well as literature on the harmful effects of using any tobacco product.
SPARKS, a student-run health and safe practices initiative on campus, hosts “Smokeout” each November, which is a campus-wide event designed to reinforce to students the dangers of smoking, as well as to ensure they are aware of university policies and regulations for those who choose to smoke.
The health center also offers counseling to students who are fighting their nicotine addictions. Elon sponsors the Quit Smart Cessation program at Duke University, and students can register for classes that help them incorporate treatments into their daily lives.
Universities that have adopted smoke-free policies have since enhanced and added to these types of programs.
Emory University in Atlanta, which has been a tobacco-free campus since 2012, has a variety of tobacco cessation programs, both on and off campus, for students who want to kick the habit.
A major concern with implementing such a tobacco-free policy is that it would be difficult to enforce around campus, considering that other bans are not successfully enforced.
“If we can’t enforce alcohol use, then there’s no way Elon could enforce tobacco use,” sophomore T.J. Mullen said.
Currently, the rule that requires people to be 30 feet away from a building when smoking is not heavily policed, Mullen said. He said he has often seen students or faculty standing outside academic buildings before class enjoying cigarettes.
Part of the problem is convenience and proximity of available tobacco products to campus, Mullen said.
“Kangaroo sells a lot of tobacco products and is right next to campus,” he said.
Mullen said if cigarettes were not as easily accessible, perhaps less students would be inclined to use them, he said.
Cynthia Fair, professor of human service studies, said she sees hope in other universities throughout the country who have instituted successful tobacco policies.
“I’ve seen many other organizations enforce the ban effectively,” Fair said. “I see no reason why Elon can’t make the same commitment to the health of its students, faculty, staff and broader community.”
Not only does the tobacco-free initiative intend to improve health for smokers themselves, Fair said, but also for those who are breathing in the secondhand smoke.
Secondhand smoke is smoke that comes from the exhaust of a lit cigarette, as well as the smoke that is exhaled by a smoker.
According to The American Cancer Society, nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke are inhaling the same nicotine and toxic chemicals as smokers.
“There is very strong evidence that secondhand smoke is associated with increased risk of ear infections in young children, lung cancer, emphysema and other pulmonary problems among those who are exposed to the carcinogens in smoke,” Fair said.
Although most people are on board with the initiative, many who do smoke feel their interests are not being fairly considered.
“I think banning tobacco completely from campuses is unfair to people who are addicted and need it to calm their nerves,” said Sam Christopher, a sophomore smoker. “Banning tobacco seems like a self-righteous quest with energies that could be better spent elsewhere.”
The initiative may not always encourage students to quit the habit as it intends. It is critical the school not marginalize a group of students and faculty while trying to support the majority, some smokers pointed out.
“The university certainly has the right to institute and enforce rules against smoking, as it has done with other behaviors,” said L.D. Russell, lecturer in religious studies and a smoker. “The key, it seems to me, is to find a solution that is fair to all.”
The health center offers a strong starting platform for students who want to quit, Lellis said. If students utilize these programs, they should receive support systems and the basic knowledge of how to break their addictions.
“If Elon is going to ban smoking on a campus, they’ll have to launch a campaign to explain it to the public and show empathy that it will affect certain individuals negatively,” she said.
Despite the lack of major governance over the tobacco culture, smoking is becoming less of a trend on its own, according to Russell.
“Elon is much more smoke-free than it once was. I see this as a broader social change in attitudes toward smoking as much as a response to any university rule,” he said. “When I first arrived on this campus 20 years ago, Elon was something of a smoking culture. Today, there seems to be a much smaller incidence of tobacco use.”