TAMPA — Mike Greenstein spent Monday afternoon walking Kennedy Boulevard in the heat.
It was the first day of a campus-wide smoking ban at the University of Tampa, so the 26-year-old graduate student had to extend his five-minute smoke breaks to 15 minutes — enough time to leave campus for a patch of sidewalk where he could light up without breaking the rules.
Before long, he had company at his new spot as more students searched to no avail for smoking sections somewhere around the 105-acre campus.
“At the very least I’ll be smoking a lot less,” Greenstein said.
That reaction is what officials were hoping for when UT joined a growing number of colleges and universities nationwide that now ban all types of smoking and tobacco use. That includes electronic cigarettes, chewing tobacco, hookahs, cigars and cigarettes. The bans often accompany new initiatives focused on student health and well being and coincide with a rapid decline in cigarette usage on campus.
“We’ve really de-normalized tobacco use in this country over the past several decades. Now it’s common that smoking is prohibited in indoor environments, like bars and restaurants,” said Brian King, a deputy director with the Office on Smoking and Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “These bans could help potentially prevent another generation of smokers.”
The UT ban took effect the same day as bans at the University of West Florida and St. Petersburg College. UWF became the ninth in the State University System after the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus joined the movement in January. The only state universities yet to ban smoking on campus are Florida A&M University, Florida Polytechnic University and New College of Florida.
The American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation counts 23 college campuses in Florida that are now smoke free, 12 of which also ban e-cigarettes and all tobacco products. More than 1,400 colleges and universities nationwide have enacted smoking bans, up from about 400 in 2010, according to the CDC. Of those, about 1,100 are tobacco free and about 800 also ban e-cigarettes.
Research shows that such bans result in fewer students reporting exposure to second-hand smoke and more students quitting smoking, King said.
That’s been the case at the University of Florida, which became the first state university to enact a campus-wide smoking ban in July 2010.
Before the ban, in a 2008 student health survey conducted by the university, only 35.6 percent of students said they had never smoked on campus while 8.9 percent said they smoked daily on campus. The year the ban was enacted, in 2010, 43.5 percent of students said they never smoked on campus, and in 2013 the number of students who never smoked on campus grew to 67.9 percent. The number of students who smoked daily on campus shrank from 4.3 percent in 2010 to 2.4 percent in 2013.
“There was a time when you could actually smoke in the classrooms a long time ago, but now it’s a rare sight to see a student smoking even around campus today,” said UF spokesman Steve Orlando. “It’s a very different culture now than it was 20 or 30 years ago.”
The tobacco industry makes up for the rejection of smoking by targeting college-age students with promotional events or tobacco giveaways at bars and clubs near campus, King said.
According to the CDC, 9 in 10 smokers begin before the age of 18 and nearly all begin before 24. There’s been an overall decline in cigarette smoking, but other forms of tobacco consumption, like hookah and e-cigarettes, are increasing or staying the same among this demographic.
UT’s ban is in effect at all times and extends to anyone on campus, whether student, employee or member of the public, said Gina Firth, associate dean of wellness.
Enforcement is largely student-led, but those repeatedly caught smoking on campus risk a citation from campus police, much like a parking ticket, Firth said. Those citations will require students to report to the Office of Student Conduct and faculty or staff to Human Resources.
“What’s important to recognize with an issue like this is it’s an addiction, and we have to be cognizant of that fact and treat it accordingly, not be mean, or cruel or disrespectful,” Firth said. “It has to be done in a caring way.”
That’s part of the reason why the ban, first announced in January, required six years of surveys and focus groups with students, employees and staff. Helping in the process was the student organization Breathe-Easy UT. Half way through, in 2013, the university prohibited smoking except at four designated smoking areas — outside Straz Hall near the baseball fields, between the Library and McKay Hall, near the Edison Building and Bailey Arts Studio, and in Delo Park in front of Austin Hall.
The university is home to an increasing number of international students from about 140 countries, Firth said, and officials had to consider different cultural opinions on smoking.
“In many different countries it hasn’t been communicated as much as a public health issue as it has in the United States,” Firth said. “They come here with a different attitude.”
Danielle Hutchinson, 21, came to UT about three years ago from her home in Kingston, Jamaica. She doesn’t smoke, but views the ban as an infringement on the rights of UT’s 8,000-plus students.
“It’s America, you should be free to do what you do,” Hutchinson said. “It’s not my personal property, but I am a resident here, I am a student here, I’m paying to go here, and it’s not cheap.”
Yet Catherine Matenje, 21, the new student coordinator for Breathe Easy UT and a student there, said she believes most students understand that smoking on campus can endanger others who have health concerns. Matenje came to UT from Malawi in southeast Africa and has asthma. Even the smell of cigarette smoke can trigger major attacks, she said.
“Everyone has the right to go to school and enjoy being outside and in clean air,” Matenje said.
By 6 p.m. Monday, smoker Greenstein had a new mission. He was lighting up inside the smoky, air conditioned atmosphere of the Retreat, a college bar steps away from UT’s downtown campus. The new ban, he said, may provide the inspiration he needs to kick his five-year smoking habit.
“I wanted to quit anyway. I’m at school for an education, not to smoke.”
Contact Anastasia Dawson at email@example.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.