VCU approves smoke- and tobacco-free campus policy

View of VCU's student commons plaza.
Effective July 1, all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, will be prohibited on university-owned property — including buildings and vehicles — and only allowed in designated outdoor smoking areas. (File photo)

Virginia Commonwealth University has approved a universitywide smoke- and tobacco-free policy in an effort to reduce tobacco use, tobacco-related fire hazards and litter, and promote a safe and healthy campus environment.

Effective July 1, all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, will be prohibited on university-owned property — including buildings and vehicles — and only allowed in designated outdoor smoking areas. The new policy applies to students, faculty, staff, contractors and campus visitors.

“VCU is committed to eliminating known health hazards and promoting healthy habits among students, patients, faculty and staff,” said Thomas Briggs, assistant vice president for safety and risk management. “The smoke- and tobacco-free campus policy is a start. Our plan is to also provide ongoing education and smoking cessation resources to help our community members make good choices about their health and environment.”

The policy does not apply to smoking cessation products designed to treat tobacco or nicotine dependence. In addition to the policy, VCU’s Office of Safety and Risk Management is working with Massey Cancer Center, VCU Human Resources and The Well — VCU’s student wellness center — to offer smoking cessation programs, educational materials and other resources to help tobacco users quit.

“Tobacco use and second-hand smoke cause cancer and heart disease and contribute to the highest rate of disease-related death. As providers and promoters of health, it is important that we align our policies with our values that focus on improving community health and well-being,” said Bernard Fuemmeler, Ph.D., associate director for cancer prevention and the Gordon D. Ginder, M.D., Chair in Cancer Research at VCU Massey Cancer Center. “By providing smoking cessation resources and eliminating second-hand smoke, we create an environment that makes it easier for smokers to quit.” 

In March, the American Cancer Society and CVS Health Foundation awarded a Tobacco-Free Generation Campus Initiative grant to Fuemmeler and his colleague, Elizabeth Do, Ph.D., an associate member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at Massey and instructor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Health Behavior and Policy. The grant supported research into the receptivity of students, faculty and staff on the MCV and Monroe Park campuses to a smoke- and tobacco-free policy, in order to help inform its planning, development and implementation. Similar initiatives and support have made tobacco-free campus policies a trend nationwide.

Fuemmeler’s and Do’s research found that most students, faculty and staff are in favor of a smoke- and tobacco-free campus policy and that most of those who use tobacco products have expressed interest in wanting to quit. As part of their study, they also conducted environmental scans of campus to determine where “no smoking” or “designated smoking area” signage needs to improve, as well as where tobacco waste was most prevalent.

VCU will begin implementing the policy over the summer into the academic year by posting signs on university property, planning educational activities and adding to smoking cessation resources for students, faculty and staff.

“The consensus among students in the focus group was that the best tobacco-free policy communication strategy is one that focuses on student health, and includes students as decision-makers in their choice to quit,” Fuemmeler said.

VCU Health System’s smoke- and tobacco-free policy has been in effect since 2010.

Information about the university policy and smoking cessation resources, including one-on-one cessation appointments, is available at tobaccofree.vcu.edu.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 217 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Thirty-eight of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.