The smoke-free policy continues to be met with mixed reviews

Cigarette butts still occupy sidewalks throughout campus despite the implementation of the smoke-free policy. The Oracle/Abby Baker

The USF Tampa Tobacco- and Smoke-Free Policy began on Jan. 4, 2016. It prohibits the use of tobacco and related products on campus. It was initially met with mixed reviews from students, which continues to be the case.

The policy states that if a student is repeatedly caught using tobacco on campus they will be in violation of the Student Code of Conduct and will be handled accordingly. Currently, administration offers a form students can submit online to report people smoking.

Dr. Rita DeBate, the associate vice president of Health and Wellness at USF, worked on a research study with students using geographic information systems (GIS) to determine the effectiveness of the policy enforcement to date.

“After the first year of implementation, we did a research study to see what the impact was and how people were with regard to the peer monitoring of the smoking and peer enforcement of the policy,” DeBate said. “A couple of students walked the campus and they GIS mapped where anyone was smoking on campus or where there was a pile cigarette butts. In addition to that, in the map, they noted if there was a no smoking sign or not.”

DeBate and her students concluded that the main problem with enforcement was a lack of communication about the policy.

“The study found that we need better communication of the policy to our faculty, staff, and students,” DeBate said.  “In addition to that we need better signage around campus because the GIS mapping technology told us that many of the places that people were smoking there was no non-smoking signage. That (research study) was presented to senior administration and they approved new signage and we’re in the process of getting that signage.”

Currently, there are no plans to create new enforcement methods or strengthen penalties for people caught using tobacco on campus, according to DeBate.  

“USF is a community, so as a community we have the responsibility to enforce it,” Debate said. “So that means faculty, staff, students, everyone that’s a part of this community. Nonetheless we have to make sure that the policy is there and visible for people to see and I think that was the missing piece.”

For some, the policy is not just a matter of conformity, but a matter of physical health.

Christopher Atkins, a junior majoring in cellular and molecular biology, is a non-smoker and is asthmatic. He said he supports the tobacco-free policy because it is advantageous for his health and makes it less likely he’ll suffer from an asthma attack. 

“I do not think the policy is being enforced well, as I have never seen the policy actually being enforced,” Atkins said. “Students still smoke wherever and whenever. I believe just as people get fined for parking in the wrong spots, people who are smoking on campus should be fined.” 

His complaints are not unique. Some students who do not smoke want harsher penalties for smokers who break the rules. 

Kayla Brown, a senior majoring in biomedical sciences, also supports the policy.

“I have seen, as well as inhaled smoke from someone’s cigarette while walking through campus,” Brown said. “I mean of course not everyone is going to abide by the policy, but I think if more consequences were given for smokers on campus, then there would be a lot less use. Harsher penalties would be very effective.”

Even with this general support for harsher penalties, one smoker said he has never received more than a warning. 

“People are going to smoke either way,” Leeland Blackford, a sophomore majoring in literary studies said.

Blackford expressed that the tobacco policy has encouraged students to smoke around campus even more.

“[The policy] doesn’t make any sense and they know that people still smoke,” Blackford said. “I feel like it’s a lot easier to just blatantly smoke anywhere. I’ve had RA’s come up to me when I was outside the dorm smoking, but never when I’m smoking at the library, or off to the side.”

Regardless of the opposition, an advocate of the tobacco ban says peer enforcement is a good policy because it keeps students responsible for their own campus environment.

Lauren George, a senior majoring in public health, said she likes the current enforcement method. George is also the President of Relay For Life of USF and has been a volunteer with the American Cancer Society for nine years. Her experiences in advocating for cancer awareness and prevention strengthen her opinions on the Smoke-Free Policy.

“The smoke free policy is extremely beneficial to those who may have smoke induced asthma, such as myself, or do not want to have to deal with the repercussions of second hand smoke,” George said. “I think that the peer enforcement policy is nice, because it helps to keep students accountable for one another.”

The plans for the policy call for the introduction of additional signage around campus so students, faculty and staff are more aware the policy is in place.

“We’re really excited about the new signage, we’re really excited about the new communications that’s going out to faculty, staff, and students, and we are very proud that USF is a smoke and tobacco free campus,” DeBate said.