TAMPA — The chance to have an authorized puff anywhere on the campus of the University of South Florida will go up in smoke by the start of 2016.
USF Tampa will become a smoke- and tobacco-free zone Jan. 1, and a campus-wide awareness campaign is already underway. That means no e-cigarettes, hookahs, chewing tobacco or other tobacco products will be permitted anywhere on the campus, including sporting events, graduation ceremonies or any events open to the public.
USF’s St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee regional campuses are already smoke and tobacco free, as are a growing number of state universities in Florida, said Beverly Daly, director for environmental health and safety at USF Tampa.
“It’s the end of a long journey for USF, and it will be a culture change for some people on campus,” Daly said. “Like any major culture change it will take time, but through sharing the message about our restrictions over the past few years we’ve become ready for that change.”
The initiative to make USF completely smoke free started as early as 2009, when USF Health centers and Moffitt Cancer Center implemented smoking bans. Then, in 2011, USF President Judy Genshaft created the Tobacco Use Task Force, a group of students and employees charged with making recommendations for a gradual transition to a smoke-free campus.
The task force decided the campus population wasn’t ready for an all-out ban, but in March 2012, tobacco use on campus was further restricted to 24 designated smoking areas including a few large benches and some sunny slabs of concrete. Surveys at the time estimated the number of smokers at 4 percent of USF students and 19 percent of faculty and staff.
There haven’t been any student polls on the smoking ban since then, Daly said, but the plan was always to move to a completely smoke-free campus.
This school year, an unusually high number of students weighed in during the comment period on the policy, said USF Attorney Steven Prevaux. Most favored an end to smoking.
“A vast majority of the feedback was from students supporting the change,” Prevaux said. “Usually people only comment to weigh in on the negative, not the positive.”
The policy will still be peer-enforced, and for the most part, students have been respectful of designated smoking sections and each other, Daly said.
“I’ve been very proud of our students,” she said.
An October count by the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights found at least 1,620 completely smoke free colleges and universities in the nation, 769 of which also prohibit e-cigarette use. In Florida, 23 colleges and universities have a campus-wide smoking ban, including Hillsborough Community College.
Daly said she hopes the change will encourage more students and employees at the university to take advantage of the free smoking cessation services already available. USF provides up to four weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy through the university’s Area Health Education Center and employee assistance program, and lists other free resources at usf.edu/tobaccofree.
In a presentation to the university’s Board of Trustees on Thursday, university staff also promised to help with a job search for any employees who want to leave because of the ban.
“We’ve gotten lots of support from smokers saying that this was the push they needed to quit,” Daly said. “This was what they were waiting for.”