Not many students, faculty or staff who violate UF’s tobacco-free policy would want their names printed in a magazine, but the fact that it happens is not hard to miss — just take a walk through campus. With no tangible means of enforcement, there are still smokers who break the rules to get their fix. Many of them complain about the policy, lacking knowledge of how or why it was passed.

The UF tobacco-free policy, effective since July 1, 2010, prohibits the use of tobacco products on all Shands and UF-controlled property. It encompasses more than just smoking a cigarette. Anyone caught possessing an electronic cigarette or even smoking while driving their car through campus is considered to be breaking the rule.

The initiative for this policy was led by Healthy Gators, a coalition of students, faculty and staff that aims to create a healthy environment for all members of the UF community.

In September 2008, 29 members of Healthy Gators developed the Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Task Force Recommendations document, which included policy recommendations to reduce tobacco use by 2010. One of those recommendations was for a campus-wide smoking ban to be implemented by July of that year.

Jane Emmerée, chair of the Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Task Force and an employee of GatorWell Health Promotion Services, cited three reasons for the ban’s recommendation.

The first was research indicating that tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and illness in the U.S.
The second was that secondhand smoke exposure is the third leading cause.

“Any individual has the right to smoke,” Emmerée said. “But I don’t want a person’s smoke blowing into my face.”
Emmerée’s third reason, she said, related to sustainability. A field study indicated that more than 10,000 cigarette butts are discarded every day on campus.

The actual effects of the ban are yet to be determined. The document assigned members of Healthy Gators to evaluate the policy on a biannual basis. The group will conduct studies on the campus smoking rates of faculty in 2011 and students in 2012.

The document also encouraged UF to provide counseling and affordable treatment programs for faculty, staff and students who want to quit smoking as well as insurance coverage for evidence-based treatment of nicotine dependency.

Finally, it prohibited university-controlled advertising, selling, or free sampling of tobacco products and the sponsorship of campus events by the tobacco industry.

Upon receiving the document from Healthy Gators, UF President Bernie Machen presented the initiative to the Board of Trustees, who voted and approved the policy.

Florida Bridgewater-Alford, director of UF Community Outreach, led a campaign to reach out to faculty, staff, students and 4.5 million annual campus visitors. Funding — a total of $4,100 — was provided by the Florida Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) Network, which receives grants from the state government.

Bridgewater-Alford said her team’s efforts included intranet posts, newsletters, staff e-mails, news stories, public service announcements and advertisements. She also coordinated the removal of items that brought to mind smoking, like ash trays on top of garbage bins and signs saying that tobacco could be used more than 50 feet away from school buildings.

Talk about the policy’s enforcement was ever-present throughout its formation. However, both Emmerée and Bridgewater-Alford recognized that the policy is not enforceable by any means other than “peer pressure.” The report by Healthy Gators 2010 states that the policy may “reduce tobacco use by smokers” by making smoking “less socially acceptable.”

“We’re not trying to tell people what to do or change their lifestyle,” Bridgewater-Alford said. “But we are encouraging them to live a healthier lifestyle and to remind them that there are folks around who want to breathe cleaner air, safer air. They don’t want secondhand smoke.”

Even if students, faculty and workers at UF continue to smoke, Bridgewater-Alford said she considers the policy successful, as long as “they [find] another place to do it” and don’t “discard their butts on campus and pollute our areas.”

So the message is out — if you’re a smoker, you’d better leave campus in order to get your fix. Otherwise, you might receive dirty looks. It’s for your own good, though.