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Frequently Asked Questions about AU's Tobacco- and Smoke-Free Policy

Tobacco is defined as all tobacco-derived or containing products including but not limited to, cigarettes (clove, bidis, kreteks), electronic cigarettes, cigars and cigarillos, hookah-smoked products, and oral tobacco (spit and spitless, smokeless, chew, and snuff).

Tobacco use is one of the leading causes of preventable death and disease. Tobacco-free policies create a healthier and safer environment for students, staff, faculty and visitors.

We are a campus dedicated to the active pursuit of sustainability. A tobacco-free campus is a way of showing our commitment to the environment. Prohibiting tobacco use on campus will reduce the amount of cigarette butts, other tobacco product related litter, and tobacco waste which has a negative impact on the environment and our campus.

If you observe an individual not respecting our policy, we encourage you to talk to them or call 202-885-2527 or email to register your concern.

Frequently Asked Questions*

Previous Enforcement Policy

Why not just enforce a "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.

Individual Rights and Freedoms

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.

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 simply prohibits 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 all pollution, so why bother?

Just because we can't solve every problem does not mean we should not solve the problems we can. 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.

* This FAQ 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.