Student Attitudes Toward Tobacco Use and Tobacco Policies on College Campuses

  • Elizabeth K. DoEmail author
  • Westley L. Fallavollita
  • Brianna Bonat
  • Kendall Fugate-Laus
  • Brianna C. Rossi
  • Bernard F. Fuemmeler
Original Paper


We utilized a mixed methods approach to assess student attitudes towards tobacco use and campus tobacco policies. Interviews (N = 21), focus groups (N = 2 groups, 4–5 participants each), and an online survey (N = 636) were conducted among a sample of students attending a 4-year, urban, public university in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. In interviews and focus groups, students expressed skepticism about a tobacco-free campus policy due to perceived violations of personal rights and challenges with enforcement. Of the sample surveyed, 9.2% and 20.6% had used cigarettes or e-cigarettes within the past 30 days. The majority of students agreed that colleges have a responsibility to adopt tobacco-free policies that reduce the risk of tobacco addiction (62.4%) and ensure smoke-free air to breathe (81.5%). However, more than half (56.3%) also indicated that a policy allowing for designated smoking areas for cigarettes was best for campus, which runs counter to a comprehensive tobacco-free policy. Academic year, gender, and race/ethnicity were significant factors associated with support for tobacco-free policies. Current smokers and vapers were less likely to support tobacco-free policies that reduce the risk of tobacco addiction (OR = 0.3, 95% CI 0.1, 0.7 for smokers; OR = 0.3, 95% CI 0.1, 0.6 for vapers), but not policies that ensure smoke-free air to breathe. E-cigarettes pose a unique obstacle to tobacco-free policies, as students perceived e-cigarettes to be less harmful than cigarettes. To implement a tobacco-free campus policy, students suggested educational campaigns that focus on the potential health benefits of a tobacco-free campus.


University College Students Attitudes Perceptions Tobacco Tobacco policies Tobacco-free campus policy 



The authors would like to thank all of the students who participated in this research, as well as the student volunteers from the VCU Brandcenter (Evanne Allen, Miguel Atkins, Mykala Daniel, Nanda Golden, Anna Kim, Chorong Kim, Hadley Mathews, and Beka Tesfaye) for their assistance with conducting the man-on-the-street interviews and focus groups, Dr. Caley Cantrell, who helped to identify student volunteers to help us with this project, Lisa Joyner, the Director of the Wellness Resource Center at VCU, who helped us to identify participants for the focus groups, and Jason Burkett from the Survey Evaluation and Research Laboratory of the L. Wilder School at VCU, who assisted with collecting the survey data for this research project. The authors would also like to thank Erica Sheldon Heath, Amy Nyman, Amelia Jazwa, and Saiza Jivani from the Georgia State University School of Public Health, who assisted with survey measure design, and Bidisha Sinha from ACS-TFGCI for her assistance in coordinating efforts.


This research was funded with a grant awarded to the research group by the American Cancer Society's (ACS) Tobacco Free Generation Campus Initiative (TFGCI), supported by the CVS Health Foundation. Additional support for this research was provided by funding from NIH-NCI Cancer Center Support Grant P30 CA016059. Study data were collected and managed using REDCap electronic data capture tools hosted at Virginia Commonwealth University (Award Number UL1TR000058).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research Involving Human Participants

All procedures performed involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research board at Virginia Commonwealth University. This study was approved as exempt.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Health Behavior & PolicyVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  2. 2.Cancer Prevention and Control, VCU Massey Cancer CenterRichmondUSA
  3. 3.Division of Epidemiology, Department of Family Health and Population SciencesVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA

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