Andrea Wilkinsen/Nevada Sagebrush A tobacco-free university sign as it stands on Monday, Feb. 27, in front of the Joe Crowley Student Union. The university’s tobacco-free policy has not discouraged smokers from lighting up on campus.

Andrea Wilkinsen/Nevada Sagebrush
A tobacco-free university sign as it stands on Monday, Feb. 27, in front of the Joe Crowley Student Union. The university’s tobacco-free policy has not discouraged smokers from lighting up on campus.

In August of 2015, the University of Nevada, Reno, became a tobacco-free university, joining 1,200 other higher-education institutes in order to improve the health of students on campus. However, students and staff continue to smoke on campus despite this policy.

This is because the “tobacco-free” label is not actually a tobacco ban. There is no specific person or department to enforce the policy and there isn’t a punishment for those who choose to smoke on campus. The university asks those on campus to respectfully educate and remind smokers about the tobacco-free policy.

“I do not think the policy has decreased the number of smokers on campus,” said junior Cassidy Leslie. “I see about the same amount of smokers on campus as I did three years ago when I lived on campus.”

Leslie also said she has seen an increase in the amount of vaping on campus since before the policy was implemented. It does not upset her that people choose to smoke on campus.

“It doesn’t bother me unless I smell it or it is blown in my direction. Then I’m upset and disgusted because now, as a nonsmoker, I feel gross.”

According to UNR’s Residential Life website, smoking is prohibited within the living halls and anywhere associated with the dorms. Students who do so face consequences from the university. Outside of those areas, anyone can smoke on campus as long as they are in accordance with Nevada State Law, which requires smokers to be at least 20 feet away from building entrances when smoking. You also cannot smoke inside buildings.

“The University is not taking away the right to use tobacco,” said UNR’s Tobacco Free website. “The University is not requiring that people quit using tobacco. People may continue with the choice to use tobacco, but we ask them to support the initiative while at the University. We will support and encourage those who do commit to a tobacco-free lifestyle and we will ask for everyone’s respect of the initiative.”

The initiative asks that students, staff and visitors do not smoke on any property owned by the university. This includes smoking in a vehicle on campus. They also emphasize that smoking includes cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vaping.

UNR junior Jonathan Brown said he tries to be respectful about smoking around others. He tries to smoke in secluded areas or in places where the smoke will not be blown toward other people.

“I do still smoke on campus, even though we’re considered tobacco-free because, in all legality, they can’t stop me or enforce that rule,” Brown said. “If someone did ask me to put it out, I would out of respect.”

So far, Brown said, no one has asked him to stop smoking on campus, despite passing what he calls “prominent figures” while smoking on campus.

The university conducts a survey called the National College Health Assessment, which has reported low tobacco use from students on campus. Over 85 percent of students on campus do not smoke and are tobacco free.

Across the country, smoking has decreased by over 20 percent in the last 12 years, and only 15 percent of people 18 years of age or older smoke, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC says that over 16 million people live with a smoking-related illness and just under 500,000 people die every year from cigarette smoking.

“It is imperative our University environment reflect the health-based principles of a modern land-grant institution that is home to the state’s medical school as well as a nationally recognized research portfolio that includes efforts in medical, behavioral and social research aimed at improving the lives and health of individuals throughout our community, our state and the world,” President Marc Johnson said about the initiative on the website.

The university has a number of programs to help students and staff quit smoking. These services include hotlines, online programs, employee assistance programs and general tips for those trying to kick their habit. They also suggest looking at what programs your health insurance offers or covers.

“Research findings show that tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke constitute a significant health hazard,” said the university’s Tobacco-Free Website. “In addition to its direct impact on the health of a community, tobacco use contributes to college costs in other ways, such as absenteeism, health care and medical insurance.”

“I know the risks of smoking, firsthand and secondhand, and have made my decisions knowingly,” Brown said.

Recreational and medicinal marijuana is still illegal on campus despite being legal in Nevada. The university could lose federal funding because marijuana is still federally illegal.

For more information about UNR’s tobacco-free policy, visit

Madeline Purdue can be reached at and on Twitter @madelinepurdue.