Wellness Center

Tobacco Free Policy and FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

(Adapted from The BACCHUS Network, October 2012 Webinar)**

Current Enforcement of the Policy

"Why not just enforce the current ‘perimeter policy’ of 25 feet?"

Perimeter policies do not address the risk of secondhand smoke exposure. Because there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, people who choose to smoke on campus negatively affect the health of all people around them. Since the establishment of the Clean Indoor Air Acts±, outdoor levels of secondhand smoke rival those of indoor levels. Even brief exposure to smoke, as you’re walking into a building, can cause or exacerbate asthma attacks, allergies and bronchitis.

In addition to not mitigating health risks, perimeter policies are difficult to enforce. A policy that prohibits the use of tobacco on any campus grounds is unambiguous and therefore easier to comply with and to enforce.  

Regarding Personal Rights and Individual Freedom

"It’s my/our right to use tobacco. You cannot take away my right to smoke."

Using tobacco is a personal choice, not a constitutional right. There is no constitutional right to smoke. A tobacco-free policy does not take away an individual’s right to choose to use tobacco; it does limit where a person may choose to use it. A tobacco-free policy respects an individual’s right to choose to use tobacco off campus.

"Smokers are a "minority group" oppressed by a tobacco-free policy, therefore I cannot support it. "

Individuals who smoke do represent a minority group in terms of numbers. Smokers are not a majority of the United States population or of any United States college campus population. However, smokers are not a category of people protected under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Likewise, smoking is not protected under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. Suggesting that individuals who make a choice to smoke are an oppressed minority group is not only an uninformed argument, but it can be offensive to truly oppressed, underrepresented and underserved groups. Tobacco use is a choice.

"A ban on all tobacco, as opposed to just tobacco smoke, targets a person for doing something that is legal and harmful only to them."

Using tobacco, in any form, is a personal choice. A tobacco?free policy does not eliminate a person’s choice to use tobacco products; it would simply prohibit the use of these products on AU’s campus where they negatively affect members of the campus community.  

Health, Safety, and Environmental Issues

"Why not address other major health issues facing college students?"

Tobacco-free policy work will not eclipse attention to other health issues. AU works on a variety of health and safety issues affecting students, faculty and staff.  

Tobacco use poses a health crisis that largely has been ignored in the U.S. because of aggressive lobbying by the tobacco industry. Tobacco-related death is the most preventable cause of mortality. In the U.S. each year, more than 400,000 people die from tobacco-related causes. Tobacco use accounts for more annual deaths than suicide, murder, HIV/AIDS, alcohol use, illegal drug use and motor vehicle injuries combined. Tobacco use and secondhand smoke are major health issues and can be influenced directly through policies that promote tobacco-free environments***. Unlike many other health issues, one person's choice to use tobacco directly affects the health of others on a daily basis.

"There are so many other pollutants in the air from cars, homes, landscaping machinery, and power plants – who cares about secondhand smoke? We can't eliminate pollution, so why bother?"

Just because we can’t solve every problem does not mean we should not solve the problems we can. Even with a tobacco-free policy, there still will be some forms of pollution in the air. Secondhand smoke kills 50,000 Americans every year, and saving some of these lives through tobacco-free policies is well worth it.***

"What about the safety of students who choose to smoke and must go off campus, especially at night?"

Safety is a concern for all students, tobacco users and non-users, both on and off campus. This is why American University utilizes Public Safety and liaisons with local authorities to implement crime prevention strategies that help keep everyone safer. Students who choose to go off campus to use tobacco products would not be at any greater risk than students who choose to go off campus to study, eat, etc.

Student Enrollment and Retention

"Won't a tobacco-free policy have a negative effect on international student enrollment and disproportionally affect international students compared to domestic students?"

There is no evidence that a tobacco-free policy will decrease international students’ interest in and enrollment at American University. In fact, if you survey international students on campus, you may find that they do not smoke at significantly higher rates than domestic students. You may find that many international students begin smoking after arriving in the U.S. or even on our campus. This perception that "many international students smoke" may be based on stereotypes and the fact that we often notice the behavior of people different from ourselves more than we notice the behavior of people who look like us.

"If we become a tobacco-free campus, enrollment will decrease and/or people will not want to work here."

More than 600 institutions of higher education (including American University) have adopted tobacco-free policies, and many more will adopt a similar policy at some point. Tobacco-free is becoming the norm. To date, there is no evidence attributing decreased enrollments to tobacco-free policies. Furthermore, there have been no reports of any school losing staff and faculty because of tobacco-free policies. In most cases, campuses have reported increases in student applications.

Regarding Smokeless Tobacco Use

"Smokeless tobacco rates could increase. With no smoking on campus, students may become more attracted to smokeless tobacco use, perceiving it as an “acceptable” behavior."

Smokeless tobacco use is a precursor to cigarette use. Adolescents who use smokeless tobacco are more likely to become cigarette smokers according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). More information can be found here.

Because we know where tobacco marketing is headed, it would be unfortunate if smoking rates decreased, while smokeless tobacco rates increased. ±± Our policy is not just smoke-free, but tobacco free.

This policy eliminates loopholes that can be exploited by the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry recognizes the increase in smoke-free laws and is rapidly developing and marketing smokeless products to young adults so that users can “smoke when you can, dip when you can’t.” Between 1998?2005, the tobacco industry has increased smokeless (and even spitless) tobacco marketing by 74%, spending $250.7M on smokeless tobacco marketing in 2005 alone. *** ±±

American University does not want to promote a product with more nicotine than cigarettes. Spit/smokeless tobacco has addiction potential similar to smoking. In fact, a dip of smokeless tobacco typically contains 3-5 times more nicotine than a cigarette. Research shows that smokers have difficulty switching from cigarettes to smokeless tobacco. Instead, many become dual users of both cigarettes and smokeless products – increasing the addiction.

Environmental and Health Concerns Related to Smokeless Tobacco

Smokeless tobacco uses the same tobacco manufacturing methods that contribute to deforestation, soil erosion and poverty.

Additionally, diseases can be easily spread through spit. Smokeless tobacco spit is considered a biohazard and contains at least 24 carcinogenic chemicals.

Finally, smokeless tobacco creates more work for maintenance staff. Spit tobacco often creates hazardous waste and byproducts, which campus maintenance staff members have to dispose of. Smokeless tobacco use results in spit that could be spilled either in classrooms or outside.

* This FAQ document was adapted from a BACCHUS Network supported webinar, "’Butt It’s My Right!’ Responding to Challenges to Passing Tobacco-Free Policies” (October 2012).

** The BACCHUS Network is a university and community based network focusing on comprehensive health and safety initiatives. Its mission is to actively promote student and young adult based, campus and community-wide leadership on healthy and safe lifestyle decisions concerning alcohol abuse, tobacco use, illegal drug use, unhealthy sexual practices and other high-risk behaviors. Additional information can be found at:

*** Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids; Toll of Tobacco in the United States of America, June 2012.

± A smoke-free workplace policy, to provide protection from secondhand smoke in the workplace, including restaurants and bars, was approved by the D.C. Council in 2006, and took full effect in 2007.

±± Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids; Smokeless Tobacco in the United States, June 2012.

Additional Resources:

Adult Smoking. CDC, “Vital Signs: Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults Aged ? 18 Years -United States, 2005-2010,” MMWR 60, September 9, 2011,

Smoking Deaths. CDC, “Annual Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Productivity Losses—United States 2000-2004,” MMWR 57(45), November 14, 2008 See also, California EPA,

Smoking-Caused Disease. CDC, “Cigarette Smoking-Attributable Morbidity – United States, 2000,” MMWR 52(35): 842-844, September 5, 2003.

Secondhand Smoke Exposure. CDC, “Vital Signs: Nonsmokers’ Exposure to Secondhand Smoke – UnitedStates, 1999-2008,” MMWR 59(35):1141-1146, September 10, 2010.

Smokeless Tobacco. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Trade Commission Smokeless Tobacco Report for 2007 and 2008, 2011,