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Few colleges and universities are 100% smoke- or tobacco-free

​Despite the increase in smoke-free environments in the US, only 16.7% of the country’s colleges and universities had 100% smoke- or tobacco-free protections in 2017. That’s according to a study published July 1 in Tobacco Control

This is the first time researchers documented how many college students, faculty, and staff were benefiting from smoke-free protections. 

“Our findings highlight that, through efforts such as the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Tobacco-Free Generation Campus Initiative, we have protected at least 15 million college students and nine million faculty and staff from exposure to toxic secondhand tobacco smoke,” said Cliff Douglas, our vice president of tobacco control and one of the study’s authors. However, those numbers represent only about 27% of all college students and 25% of college faculty and staff. 

To get the 100% smoke-free designation, smoking had to be banned anywhere on all campuses of the college or university at any time. If the ban included non-combustible products like smokeless tobacco, schools received the 100% tobacco-free designation. 

The study, led by the National Cancer Institute, combined and analyzed data from two sources. Data on accredited, degree-granting institutions came from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), while information on campus protections came from the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation’s (ANFR) Smoke-free and Tobacco-Free Colleges and Universities List. Out of 4,938 higher education institutions in the IPEDS database, 823 were completely smoke- or tobacco-free. 

Just three states – Arkansas, Iowa, and North Dakota -- had 100% smoke- or tobacco-free protections at more than half of their colleges and universities. Four states – Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming – and the District of Columbia had no known schools with those protections. The study identified only schools with 100% protections and did not include those with partial smoke-free policies.

The study authors note that smoking tends to start when people are young and develop into regular smoking as they get older. In fact, some 99% of all adult cigarette smokers started before they were 26. 

Smoking increases the risk for several cancers, and accounts for about 30% of all cancer deaths in the U.S., including about 80% of all lung cancer deaths. Smoking also increases the risk for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and many other health problems.

Exposure to secondhand smoke also increases a person’s risk of lung cancer and other health conditions because it has the same dangerous chemicals that smokers inhale. There is no safe level of exposure for secondhand smoke. 

If more campuses adopted smoke-free policies, then college students, faculty, and staff would be less likely to start smoking and more likely to quit if they currently smoke, according to Bidisha Sinha, our director of Tobacco Control Initiatives, who leads the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative. She is also one of the study’s co-authors. 

It would also protect young people from the dangers of secondhand smoke, she adds. “The ACS continues to expand its efforts in this area by awarding grants to campuses and working in collaboration with schools and public health programs to promote smoke- and tobacco-free policies across the nation,” said Bidisha.


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