The fall semester at the University of Arizona begins in just over four weeks, and students will notice one significant change when they return from their summer holidays. Starting mid-august, smoking and the use of all forms of tobacco will be banned from all university property and grounds.
David Salafsky, director of UA's Health Promotion and Preventive Services, said efforts to ban smoking and tobacco were largely student-led through the student health advocacy committee.
"About 70 percent of students support a tobacco free policy," Salafsky said.
Lauren Breckenridge, who will start her sophomore year at the UA in the fall, said she supports the ban but was never really bothered by second-hand smoke.
“Generally this is a campus that doesn’t have issues with cigarettes or tobacco use at all," she said. "And I guess it’ll be even less of an issue. So yeah, I don’t see it being a dramatic difference.”
It will be a big change for regular smokers on campus. In the 2014 UA health and wellness survey, 21 percent of respondents said they had used tobacco in the past 30 days, though not necessarily on campus.
One UA staff member who didn’t want to give his name while smoking near the student union said he thinks the ban is harsh and will be disruptive.
“I think it’s going to move a lot of people off campus for short amounts of time," he said. Especially during lunches, which might actually end up hurting the student union.”
Although he disagrees with it, he said he’ll abide by the policy.
Student Lauren Breckenridge said she thinks some of her classmates will oppose the new policy because it also prohibits the use of e-cigarettes on campus.
UA Vice President of Human Resources Allison Vaillancourt said the ban on e-cigarettes was indeed the most controversial part of the policy change.
“We’ve had several people write in to say e-cigarettes are a smoking cessation tool," she said. "They’re completely harmless, they should not be prohibited. At the same time we’ve had members of our medical and public health community write in to say ‘my research focuses on this, there are studies that show that e-cigarettes are not harmless, they must be included in the policy.’”
Arizona State University, which implemented a similar ban last year, still permits e-cigarettes outside on campus. Kevin Salcido, ASU’s vice president of human resources and chief human resources officer, said his university left e-cigarettes out of its ban because of the lack of understanding of their long-term health effects.
"We’re kind of waiting for the signs to develop more on the safety or lack there of on the water vapor that they emit, we’re getting mixed signals on that right now," he said.
UA included e-cigarettes in its ban for the same reason.
"FDA hasn’t fully reviewed the safety of e-cigarettes so we have no reason to believe that they are any safer than regular cigarettes," Salafsky said. "We just don’t know so I think including them makes sense until the scientific community has more information and has released more of that to the public."
In terms of enforcement, the UA's policy is very similar to ASU’s.
"We continue to go with a soft enforcement policy and that is to communicate and educate the community about our tobacco-free policy," Salcido said. "And when we do come across folks that are using tobacco on campus more often then not if we point out to them that ASU is tobacco free they almost immediately extinguish their smoking material and move on."
Likewise, administrators at the UA don’t expect to have to issue citations to violators. Instead, students caught using banned products will be referred to their college student representatives, while staff violators will be reported to their supervisors.
“We want to say, here’s our community standard, you’re part of our community," Vaillancourt said. "And we know that you will follow the standards that we’ve established.”
The UA employee who didn’t want to be identified said he is concerned by a lack of clear penalties for people caught violating the policy.
"I think it opens up a dangerous avenue of non-uniform response to the situation. If there’s a supervisor who’s a smoker they’re going to be a little bit more lax on the situation versus if somebody is very anti-smoking they might be a lot harsher. And I think that sets a poor example for policy enforcement," he said.
Salafsky said he expects that it will take some time for students and staff to get used to the ban, but that the university is prepared to help and will provide students tobacco cessation products as well as counseling.
ASU provides students and staff support in quitting, and according to a university survey, student tobacco use dropped ten percent after the ban went into effect, though use of e-cigarettes rose.
The UA is one of 1,300 universities across the country to ban tobacco use on campus.