Smoke-Free Colleges Pick Up Steam

By Will Godfrey 09/01/11

Over 500 US university campuses have banned smoking since 2003.

A dying breed? Photo via

A drive to banish smoking from college campuses is rapidly gaining momentum, reports CNN. More than 500 US campuses now prohibit the habit entirely—even in parking lots—and over 120 have added themselves to the no-smoking list just this year. Many of them use a softly-softly approach pioneered by Ty Patterson, former Vice President of Student Affairs at Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield, Missouri, which became the first 100% smoke-free campus in the country as recently as 2003. He predicts that virtually all American colleges will adopt his policy within 10 years. According to Patterson's model, students are educated about the dangers of smoking and merely asked politely to extinguish their cigarettes during the first semester after a ban. Then the penalties kick in—gradually, of course. A first violation earns a warning. Second or third violations lead to $15 fines or two hours' hard labor picking up tobacco litter—which might not be overly onerous if a school's policy has been successful. Further offenses result in probation or expulsion. Whatever the objections of Philosophy or Politics majors, evidence suggests that these policies can be effective. At the University of Kentucky, for example, where a small student protest greeted a ban in 2008, enrollment in a tobacco cessation program more than quadrupled in the following year. The institution improbably uses packs of "Tobacco-Free Take Action!" volunteers to patrol the grounds, respectfully re-educating offenders and asking them to extinguish their cigarettes. One of the volunteers, squeaky-clean senior Melissa McCann, told CNN that the 10 smokers she approached this summer all complied. She didn't reveal how many of them added, "But just give me five minutes first..."

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Will Godfrey is the former editor-in-chief of TheFix. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of, and previously co-founded a magazine for prisoners in London. His work has appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, AlterNet and The Nation among others. He is currently the Executive Director at FILTER. You can find Will on Linkedin and Twitter.