Beginning Oct. 1, the 31 public colleges and universities that make up the Georgia University System will go tobacco-free as part of a system-wide mandate that prohibits their use on campus.
The move comes as a growing number of colleges around the country enact total tobacco bans or partial smoking bans. (Georgia students will still face a penalty for chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes.) According to the lobbying group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, by October 2010 there were 450 colleges nationwide who participated in some form. By Wednesday, the number will have more than tripled.
“It goes back to health and productivity,” Marion Fedrick, the university system’s vice chancellor of human resources, told The New York Times. “We’re not at all saying that they can’t smoke. They just can’t smoke on our campuses.”
Of course, a supreme hurdle in any outright ban is enforcement. When a governing body tells a group of people they must quit a habit (even if it’s just a NIMBY-related one), there is a tension between how the group of people see the rule and how much demand there is to keep the habit alive. Things get especially complicated when that habit is easily extinguished on a nearby wall or on the sole of a sneaker.
Other universities have already modeled success. Framingham State University, located just west of Boston, has seen dips in on-campus smoking rates ever since administrators enacted their ban in 2013. “Is our campus 100 percent smoke-free?” said FSU Dean Melinda K. Stoops, to The Times. “No. You’ll still find someone violating the policy. Is it dramatically different? Yes.”
Tobacco use as a whole is coming down in the United States. In the 1960s, rates flew as high as 40 percent. By the most recent estimates, smoking has quieted to just above 18 percent. It still remains the leading cause of death, however, and few intervention strategies have succeeded. Splashing frightening and grotesque images on cigarette packs only seems to enhance the danger, especially for a smoking population that already fancies themselves risk-takers.
Experts argue the most effective measures aren’t ones that involve an “immediate jump-in,” as Tad Spencer, the director of tobacco prevention initiatives for Naspa, a national student affairs organization, put it. The transition is intended to be one of education and gradual phasing out. At the University of Georgia, students already know they may not smoke within 35 feet of an academic building or bus stop.
As for enforcement, some students remained skeptical the ban — or “prohibition,” as one Georgia administrator put it, to make the move seem less harsh — will yield meaningful change. Under the gun, when students aren’t unwinding with video games, yoga, or prescription drugs, they’re probably smoking.
“Hypothetically, yes, it’d be nice to have a tobacco-free world,” said Beni Kozen, a junior, to The Times. “But sometimes you just need a study break and a stress-relief break.”