University of Rochester

Smoke-Free Living: Student Campaign Results in Policy Change

July 5, 2003

Undergraduate housing at the University of Rochester will become smoke-free in the next two years, starting with residence halls for the incoming Class of 2007. The impetus came not from New York State's new ban on smoking in nearly all public places, but from a student class project to stop the effects of secondhand smoke.

"Smoking in public areas of housing has not been allowed for many years . . . [and] we are now expanding the non-smoking expectations to include all individual student rooms," wrote Logan Hazen, director of residential life, and Dr. Ralph Manchester, director of the University Health Service, in a joint letter to freshmen.

Movement for change grew from coursework by juniors Avril Little, Kira Epstein, Mary LeBrun, and Tiffany Siu, who were enrolled in the Action for Health course last spring. The four undergraduates and master of public health student Catherine Vladutiu, who was a teaching assistant for the course, researched the data and compared it with other colleges, conducted a tobacco survey, and gained support from students and staff. Naming their project SCAT (Students in College Against Tobacco), they presented a well-documented proposal to decision makers.

Institutional change rarely occurs so quickly.

"I honestly did not think it would happen because it seemed like such a far-out idea," said Epstein, of Chevy Chase, Md. "Our research showed the reaction of other schools, the dangers of secondhand smoke, and the fact that most of our peer schools are already smoke-free. It also helped that New York State was going smoke-free around the same time," she said.

Their proposed policy now in effect reads:

"Smoking shall not be permitted in any communal or non-communal space that is the property of the University of Rochester. This includes all buildings, student rooms and suites, hallways, entryways, and other spaces of that nature." The policy will be phased in over two years, beginning with all freshman residence halls in fall 2003 and the remainder of student living areas by summer 2004.

While researching, the group found that 75 percent of the University of Rochester students who responded to the survey do not smoke and would prefer smoke-free housing. Another 13 percent smoke only once a week or less. Nationally, 27 percent of colleges have smoke-free residence halls, the students learned.

In April, the team presented its findings to the Deans' Advisory Committee, a group of student leaders. The recommendation was approved in June.

"People here at the University listen to students and that's a really great message for the Action for Health students," commented Linda Dudman, UHS associate director for health promotion and instructor of last spring's SCAT project. In Action for Health, student teams work on community health promotion projects to develop improvement plans, perform interventions, and evaluate outcomes. In this case, the student team met its goal to promote a healthy living environment by preparing and presenting their proposal for smoke-free residence halls.

"It is their expectation that this change will have a positive impact on students by minimizing the effects of secondhand smoke exposure and reducing smoking initiation rates among students," Dudman said.

The students' project was supported by Residential Life, the University Health Service, the University Fire Marshal, the University Safety Committee, the Dean of Students, the Senior Services Staff, the UR Student Health Advisory Committee, and students in the Peer Health Advocacy class.

Students who want to stop smoking are encouraged to talk with their primary care provider at the University Health Service for assistance.

For Epstein, the course changed her thinking. "Although I never liked smoke, I didn't really make a big deal about it. I now encourage my friends who consider themselves 'social' smokers to give it up. Before, I just watched it happen."