DANVILLE — Oftentimes, Danville Area Community College student Dustin Tabor has an urge to light up a cigarette before a difficult class or exam.
"It calms my nerves," the first-year criminal justice student said of his smoking habit, as he took a final drag then threw his butt on the ground on his way into the DACC administration building.
Starting on Wednesday, Tabor and others won't be able to smoke or use any other type of tobacco product on campus. That's because DACC is joining the 774 colleges and universities across the United States known to have gone smoke- or tobacco-free.
Under DACC's tobacco-free policy, approved in April 2011, "no consumption of tobacco or tobacco products will be allowed on any college property or in any college facility."
Tobacco is defined as "any lighted or unlighted cigarette, cigar, pipe, bidi, clove cigarette and any other smoking product or products that appear to be a cigarette. This also includes smokeless or spit tobacco also known as dip, chew, snuff or snus, in any form."
After much study, officials decided to make the campus tobacco-free out of respect for others and the environment, and to be consistent with the college's mission.
"We take very seriously our role as an educational leader in the community," President Alice Jacobs said, adding that means not only educating the public on health and safety issues but also setting an example in those areas.
"Certainly, all of the scientific evidence points to the fact that there are so many health risks associated with second-hand smoke," Jacobs continued, citing reports from the U.S. Surgeon General, Centers for Disease and Prevention and World Health Organization stating that there isn't any safe level of secondhand smoke and the only effective way to protect others is to establish 100 percent smoke-free areas. "We can't ignore that data and we want to provide our students, staff and visitors with a safe and healthy environment."
Then there's the litter problem.
"We have such a beautiful campus, and a limited staff that can deal with the litter created by tobacco products," Jacobs said. "For a number of years when I took people on tours of the campus, I always had to apologize for all of the cigarette butts on the ground."
Higher education institutions throughout the U.S. began banning smoking and the use of tobacco products in buildings in the 1970s, said Ty Patterson, executive director of the National Center for Tobacco Policy. But they didn't begin going 100 percent smoke- or tobacco-free until nearly three decades later.
Today, at least 774 college and universities have enacted smoke- or tobacco-free policies, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation. Of those, 562 have tobacco-free policies (no forms of tobacco are allowed), while 212 are only smoke-free (smokeless forms of tobacco are allowed).
The policies are in various phases of implementation.
"Those are the ones we're aware of," Bronson Frick, the foundation's associate director, said of the schools on the list. He said higher education institutions aren't required to report their smoking policies, and his organization doesn't actively solicit the information.
On the list are small, private institutions such as Olivet Nazarene University and Wheaton College in Illinois and public ones with multiple campuses such as Indiana University and the University of Michigan.
Parkland College and the University of Illinois aren't, but officials said their smoking policies are more stringent than Illinois law regarding smoking, which prohibits the act in all buildings and within 15 feet of building entrances, exits and windows. And UI officials plan to continue discussing a campuswide smoking ban later this year.
"Colleges and universities are addressing this for a variety of reasons," Frick said, adding the mounting evidence of the health risks of secondhand smoke and a desire to curb the use of tobacco products among young people, called "the replacement smokers" by health leaders, are certainly among them.
According to a 2012 report of the U.S. Surgeon General, tobacco use among youths 12 to 17 and young adults ages 18 to 25 has decreased, but it's still at epidemic proportions. Among its findings: Nearly nine out of 10 smokers started smoking by age 18; 99 percent started by age 26; almost no one starts smoking after age 25; and progression from occasional to daily smoking almost always occurs by age 26.
"It's not about saying people can't smoke," Frick said. "It's about questioning the role of tobacco in an academic setting and, knowing what we do about the health risks and the behavior of tobacco companies that are targeting young people to become the replacement smokers, whether it's appropriate. More and more colleges and universities are saying no, and they're wanting to step up as educational leaders."
Frick added that many campus initiatives started as grass-roots efforts by students.
"As there was a greater awareness of the health risks, more students were speaking out that they didn't want to become a tobacco statistic."
Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield, Mo., is widely considered to be the first college campus in the country to go tobacco-free. It's also credited with helping other schools follow suit.
The National Center for Tobacco Policy's Patterson, then OTC's vice president of student services, began researching how to eliminate tobacco from the campus in 1997 at the request of then-President Norman Myers.
"His primary reason wasn't the health issue," Patterson recalled. At the time, the college was constructing new buildings, and Myers didn't want cigarette butts and other refuse marring the campus.
"We also had students under the age of 18," Patterson said.
Like other states, Missouri law prohibits anyone under 18 from purchasing and possessing tobacco products. But the college didn't have the means or desire to police them.
In addition, OTC had trouble enforcing its policy, which essentially moved smokers from inside buildings to outside, placing them in or near the path of anyone entering or exiting. Sure, people were required to smoke a certain distance from entrances, Patterson said. But, they didn't always comply, particularly during bad weather.
Patterson began searching for colleges and universities that had successfully eliminated tobacco, hoping to use their models to create an effective policy for OTC.
But "I couldn't find anyone who had done this," he said, adding most expressed a desire to do that but said they didn't know how.
That led Patterson to develop an innovative initiative, aimed at changing the culture. At its center was a policy based on respect for others and the environment.
Most importantly, "it didn't demonize tobacco users. It treated them with respect ... and persuaded them to comply in the spirit of cooperation," said Patterson, a former smoker.
OTC officials approved the policy in 1999 and implemented it in 2003, after a multi-tiered educational campaign that included making students and staff aware of the policy's purpose and teaching them how to quit tobacco, if they were interested. It wasn't too long before other higher ed institutions took notice and asked OTC to show them the ropes.
In 2004, the college formed the Center of Excellence for Tobacco-Free Policy to share best practices with other organizations. It later reorganized as the National Center for Tobacco Policy.
"We've worked with colleges in almost every state," said Patterson, who assisted DACC with its initiative. "I honestly believe that within 10 years' time, it will be hard to find a college campus that isn't smoke-free or tobacco-free."
At Parkland, smoking and using smokeless tobacco are prohibited indoors and in college vehicles and within 50 feet of all building entrances, "except in clearly-marked designated smoking areas." Spokeswoman Patty Lehn said there currently is no discussion to go tobacco- or smoke-free at this time.
On the UI campus, smoking is prohibited indoors and in campus-owned or leased vehicles "with the exception of designated smoking-permitted overnight guest rooms." It's also prohibited outdoors "immediately adjacent" to building entrances and exits and "in areas surrounding fresh air intakes of buildings except at a reasonable distance, or unless otherwise designated."
However, some are hoping to change that. Last fall, then-UI student trustee Hanna Ehrenberg collected enough signatures to put a proposal on the ballot, asking the university to ban smoking campuswide.
"In general, students were very warm to this idea," said current student trustee David Pileski, who served as Illinois student senate president last year. He added that roughly 70 percent of the 10,000 students who cast a ballot voted in favor of a total ban.
Pileski believes the support stemmed from "a lot of people were concerned about their health and the health of their fellow students. So, I think in some way, shape or form, the university should move forward with implementing some type of smoke-free policy."
Over the winter, a campus committee studied the idea to determine the feasibility and how it could be implemented, said Associate Chancellor Mike DeLorenzo, the committee chairman. In doing so, it researched smoke-free initiatives at other Big Ten schools including Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Purdue.
"We're drafting a report with different options," he said, adding the committee hopes to present it to Chancellor Phyllis Wise in the next month or so. Options include adopting a campuswide policy, going smoke-free gradually or not making any change.
"I suspect there will be a lot more discussion," DeLorenzo said, adding a number of practical issues would have to be ironed out. For example, employees' location on campus and the time they have for breaks must be considered.
If a policy is enacted, DeLorenzo said the university likely would spend a year or two preparing the public before its implementation, as other institutions have done.
DACC's Tobacco-free Campus Initiative Task Force has been preparing the community for the new policy since its passage. Members have distributed information and posted it on the college's website, offered "quit kits" and held activities including a campus cleanup, in which volunteers collected more than 20 pounds of cigarette butts over a five-day period.
"We've really taken this time to try to change perceptions," said task force chairwoman and nursing instructor Shelby May, who hopes that will make for a smooth transition.
On Wednesday, DACC will begin enforcing its new policy, "but not in a punitive way," May explained. Instead, designated "greeters" will politely approach anyone they see smoking or chewing and hand them a card with policy information.
"They'll open a dialog and say, 'I'm not sure if you knew, but we're a tobacco-free campus now, and here's why, and we'd like your cooperation in helping us do this.' We want them to know we're not trying to take away their right to use tobacco. We're saying we're prohibiting the use on campus," she said, adding people will be allowed to smoke in their vehicles.
Repeat violators will face disciplinary action in accordance to DACC's student code of conduct.
May said the college will continue to promote compliance through education and offer resources to help people quit smoking including smoking cessation classes, counseling through the Illinois Tobacco Quitline and the Freedom Through Smoking program offered by the American Lung Association.
Patterson said it took about two years for OTC to make the transition.
But "from day one at OTC, the level of noncompliance was very, very minimal," he said. "This is why culture change is so important."
"There are a few people who will persist, but the reality is it's doable," Patterson continued. "There are a lot of advantages ... and it doesn't appear there is any horrible downside. There's no evidence students transfer to a different school or that employees resign their positions ... or alumni are offended. The disadvantage was people didn't know how to do it."
At DACC, students' attitude toward the tobacco-free campus largely boils down to whether they smoke.
"It infringes on people's rights," said Kara Roberts, a nursing student and smoker. But, she said, she doesn't plan to look for another school, which she chose for its convenient location and low cost.
"I think it's a great idea," said Ann Miller, a pre-K-3 education major. "I have asthma and am allergic to cigarette smoke. I think it will make it easier to breathe."
Tabor said he doesn't have a problem with the policy. He'll smoke in his car.
"They've banned it from buildings, restaurants, bars," he said. "I figured it would just be a matter of time before they banned it (campuswide). I'm fine with it."