Tobacco-Free Campus: UT's Attempt to Kick Cigarette Butt

By Carly Cummins and Ian Floyd Cigarette buds litter a tobacco-free area at the PCL. The campus is covered in tobacco-free signs. Photo by Carly Cummins

Blue and orange tobacco-free signs populate lamp posts and building walls, ash cans have been removed from gathering areas, and faculty, staff and students are responsible for educating violators of the policy as the primary means of enforcement.

Less than three months remain before temporary tobacco-use locations are removed and tobacco use is banned campus-wide. Before the University increases the scope of the tobacco ban, the question must be asked, how effective has the policy been thus far?

On Jan. 18, 2012, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas required all research grant recipients to adopt tobacco free policies at locations where funds are being used. The University of Texas at Austin, which receives about $33 million in CPRIT funding each year, responded by implementing a campus-wide tobacco-free policy in April of 2012.

In 1991 smoking was banned in all university buildings and was expanded to include 20 feet beyond the building entrances in 2002. In 2011, a resolution was passed by the University Student Government to move the campus towards banning tobacco use completely, according to the university’s tobacco-free policy website.

But without CPRIT’s new grant restrictions to speed up the process, it’s unclear how long it would have taken UT to become tobacco-free on its own. “The student government resolution had a seven year time table. I would hope that we would not have taken seven years,” says Adrienne Howarth-Moore, the University’s tobacco-free policy spokesperson. “The CPRIT funding was definitely a significant amount of research dollars and as a premiere research institution it made us move this process along much more quickly.”

Moving quickly meant coming up with an effective policy enforcement plan that would be fair and that addressed the possibility of cigarette butt litter increase in front of local businesses not under the policy rules. They also had to leave room for exceptions, in cases such as using tobacco products for research or theatrical purposes. The policies of other newly tobacco-free universities such as Michigan, Texas State and UT Arlington served as models for establishing UT’s own policy. Members of the faculty, staff and leaders of the student government also gave their opinion on the most effective types of enforcement, Howarth-Moore says.

The counsel’s result was a policy with “education, awareness and a spirit of cooperation” at the core of its enforcement. Students, faculty, staff and campus visitors and contractors would be encouraged to become knowledgeable of the policy so to effectively abide by it themselves, as well as let others know about it.

The tobacco-free campus policy contains an online tool-kit detailing how to confront a tobacco user on campus. It also states that pocket policy cards are available from “Building Managers, at the Visitor Center, the HRS HealthPoint Wellness Program for staff & faculty and the Student Health Promotion Resource Center” to be given as a reminder to violators of the policy. When Orange magazine inquired about these cards, only the Student Health Promotion Resource Center in the Student Services Building had any knowledge of them. “I’ve seen the big signs that are like that, that say tobacco-free campus and I know that the university placed those all over campus,” says Crystal King, associate executive director of the University unions. “We don’t currently have…we’re not passing out cards or doing anything like that. We are just more communicating face to face with people.”

King oversees some of the campuses’ most popular spots, including the Texas Union, Student Activity Center, Hogg Memorial Auditorium and the Student Services Building. She says she and her building managers follow the instructions of the online campus tool-kit when dealing with policy violators, though so far there haven’t been any major issues.

Howarth-Moore says since the implementation of the policy few violations have been reported. She works with campus building managers to resolve these reports or, in cases where no resolution can be found, refers the violator to the appropriate dean or department chair: students are referred to the Dean of Students, faculty to the Provost Office and staff-level employees, contractors and visitors to the Office of the Vice President of University Operations. So far, none of the violations reported have had to be passed on to these higher levels of referral. “Given the population size that we have for the University, when you factor in our staff, faculty, contract workers, students and visitors, we have on average over 70,000 people on our campus every day,” says Howarth-Moore. “We’ve had some reports of concerns involving the policy but very minimal, you know, less than 10.”

But on such a large, busy campus, it is questionable how many people actually stop to inform violators of the policy, or how many instances go unnoticed. “I have walked past people smoking. Inevitably, everyone has to make their own decision in the minute,” says Chris Carter, Perry-Castañeda Library building manager. “For me the way it tends to play out is: I am late for a meeting and I don’t have time to always try to enforce that policy.”

Despite it being a tobacco-free area, this popular PCL spot shows signs of abundant cigarette use. Photo by Carly Cummins

Another popular location on campus, the PCL has recently extended their hours and has seen an increase in the use of the facilities by students from 2 to 7 a.m., says Carter. With only two security guards monitoring all students in and around the building after midnight, it is difficult to enforce the tobacco-free policy.

According to the number of cigarette butts Carter finds each morning in the PCL’s tobacco-free plaza, it seems a lot of policy violation is happening during late-night hours. “If I get around before the facilities landscaping guys come and clean it all up, you get a sense of how much smoking was going on,” says Carter. “I would say that since we have all of the signs up in the plaza that as time goes on there will be fewer, but there are still plenty of people smoking in that area.”

CPRIT does not investigate whether a campus’s tobacco-free policies are actually effective, they only require that a policy be implemented that adheres to the new grant-funding regulations. “Part of that grant process is to attest to the fact that you are tobacco-free, and of course as our university we hold ourselves up to a high level of standards and ethics,” says Howarth-Moore. “For us to attest that we’re tobacco-free and not in fact be tobacco-free is something that we would not want to ever do. We hold ourselves accountable to a policy that we’ve implemented.”

A survey conducted in the fall of 2012 by the National College Health Assessment found out of 1,586 random respondents (about 20.1 percent of the UT student population) 2.9 percent are regular smokers. Beginning in 2012, faculty and staff under the UT Select insurance plan are required to say whether or not they are regular tobacco users. The UT System Administration, Office of Employee Benefits, reported 2.8 percent of Austin members declared at least one tobacco user.