New policy prohibits use of all tobacco products on all campuses as of January 2023

Rutgers University campuses will be tobacco free, President Jonathan Holloway said Wednesday as he announced the university’s new “Tobacco-Free by 2023” initiative.

The tobacco-free policy, which will be effective as of Jan. 1, 2023, covers all campuses – indoors and outdoors – and includes the use of all tobacco products. It applies to students, employees and visitors. The new policy, informed by research and recommendations from the Rutgers Center for Tobacco Studies, aims to reduce smoking and tobacco use among young people at a time in their lives when they are most likely to start and to encourage and support tobacco users of all ages who want to quit.

“By declaring our campuses tobacco-free, we aim to make our community a healthier place to live, learn and work as we educate smokers about the resources available to help them quit,” Holloway said. The president noted that the administration’s efforts to change the tobacco policy aligned with recommendations made by the University Senate and are focused on changing behaviors for better health outcomes for all.

The new policy updates the existing one that has prohibited smoking inside and within 30 feet of university-owned and operated buildings. In addition to traditional tobacco products and e-cigarettes, hookah, novel tobacco products and smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco will also be prohibited on campus.

“About 90 percent of smokers begin by age 18, when many young people are entering college, and most move from experimenting to regularly smoking within a few years,” said Kevin Schroth, associate professor at the Rutgers Center for Tobacco Studies and the Rutgers School of Public Health. “By discouraging young people from starting to use cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products, by encouraging current tobacco users to quit, and in doing so reducing secondhand smoke exposure, this policy will improve the health of students, faculty and staff.”

Along with the policy change, the university will highlight information and access to cessation counseling services, including the Rutgers Tobacco Dependence Program, the NJ Quit Line and NJ Tobacco Quit Services, to encourage and help students and employees to quit tobacco use.

A 2021 survey of Rutgers students and employees by the Center for Tobacco Studies found wide support for a tobacco-free campus. Around three-quarters of all respondents supported the new proposed policy and nine out of 10 agreed that universities have a responsibility to adopt policies that ensure people have smoke-free and vapor-free air to breathe. Additionally, three out of four smokers and eight out of ten e-cigarette users who responded indicated that they plan to quit.

“Creating a tobacco-free campus at Rutgers can benefit the entire community,” said Schroth, who led a University Senate committee that researched the current policy and recommended the policy changes. He noted that the new policy is consistent with Rutgers’ policy on cannabis use, which is required by federal law.

The Center for Tobacco Studies created RU Tobacco Free in 2019 to research adopting a tobacco-free policy at Rutgers and was awarded grants from the American Cancer Society, the Truth Initiative and NJ Prevention Network. Schroth noted that the grants enabled the RU Tobacco Free staff and students to conduct physical surveys of smoking areas on campuses in New Brunswick, Piscataway, Newark and Camden, and to survey students, faculty and staff across the university on tobacco use.

“When we look at the data from other schools, it shows that implementing policies like this helps reduce tobacco use,” said Katie La Capria, a master of public health student who worked on the RU Tobacco Free project. “Our surveys found strong support for this policy and also found that those who use tobacco on campus want to quit but are not aware of the resources to help them. Implementing this policy will raise more awareness regarding those resources available to help people quit and move them in the right direction.”

The center’s research finds that 90 percent of tobacco users experiment before the age of 18 and 99 percent of regular tobacco use begins by age 26. “In fact, the use of tobacco products, no matter what type, is almost always started and established during adolescence when the developing brain is most vulnerable to nicotine addiction,” a University Senate committee report notes.

Rutgers joins thousands of colleges and universities, including eight other Big Ten universities, that do not allow smoking, e-cigarette use, smokeless tobacco use or other tobacco products to be used on campus. Four additional Big Ten schools have policies that do not allow outdoor smoking.

The stronger policies signal a change from a focus on protecting only nonsmokers on campuses from secondhand smoke to highlighting universities’ leadership in promoting public health for all.

“We want Rutgers to be a healthy environment for all of our community members,” said Antonio Calcado, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Rutgers. “By making our campuses tobacco free we will make Rutgers an even better place to learn, work and live.”