University of Kansas students and staff can no longer use tobacco or vaping products on school grounds under a new policy pushed by health-conscious students and embraced by administrators looking to stay competitive.
State law already banned smoking inside and immediately outside campus buildings. But starting July 1, no one can smoke, vape or use any other tobacco products anywhere on KU property.
The new policy comes into effect more than five years after a student group surveyed students and found that 64 percent favored stricter tobacco policies. Faculty who responded to an Office of Institutional Research and Planning survey at the time agreed.
More than 2,100 colleges and universities across the country are already smoke-free and 1,800 are also tobacco-free, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation.
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The University of Missouri has been smoke-free since 2013. University of Missouri-Kansas City became smoke- and tobacco-free a year later. Kansas State University adopted its smoke-free campus policy last month.
KU delayed plans to formalize a tobacco-free policy while it dealt with last year's new state law allowing concealed handguns on campus, said human resources director Ola Faucher.
"I would have to say that the implementation of the conceal and carry process for the university took priority," Faucher said. "This particular policy languished while the university adapted to the state statute."
After the 2013 surveys, support for a policy lagged, said Savannah Cox, a rising senior who is the president of Breathe Easy at KU, a group that has advocated for a tobacco-free campus.
But a similar survey conducted by the university's Student Senate in 2016 again showed support — 56 percent — for a tobacco ban, and students galvanized again.
"We know the health consequences of tobacco by now," said Cox, a pre-med student who joined Breathe Easy at KU after a former member visited her community health class. "I thought this is definitely something we should try to get off our campus, clean the air and motivate people struggling with addiction."
Breathe Easy at KU and other student groups worked to rally support, particularly from students. A steering committee used a Kansas Health Foundation grant to hire a consultant to advise to on the best way to implement a tobacco-free policy.
Cox said students addressed the concerns of students and staff at health fair booths and through promotional items. While most feedback was positive, she said, some saw smoking as a right they were losing.
"We would be very positive and open-minded and listen to everything they had to say," Cox said. "We tried to explain where this policy is coming from, that it also is a right for lots of students to be able to have clean air on campus."
By last summer, the university finalized the policy that took effect this July.
The new rules affect every KU campus, including Lawrence, Edwards in Overland Park, Parsons, Juniper Gardens in Kansas City, Kan., and Topeka sites.
There will be no designated smoking areas, though tobacco use in private vehicles is permitted. The policy will be enforced like any other discipline violation for staff and students, not through the campus police.
The university offers students help combating a nicotine or tobacco addiction through free programs at the university's student health center. Employees can receive cessation assistance through KU's health insurance, Faucher said.
While the new policy was driven by students, Faucher said it will keep KU competitive with universities that have embraced similar changes.
"It has a lot to do with being a leader of thought and social change, because that’s the way our culture is going." Faucher said. "There are a lot of campuses now that are tobacco free. It places us in a more comparable position with a lot of universities when we are recruiting students."