It's a cold, wet afternoon at the University of New Hampshire, and sitting in the frigid drizzle, a lighted cigarette in her hand, senior Amy Osborne wistfully recalls her freshman year on campus. "Both me and my roommate smoked," says Osborne, 23. "Nobody cared back then what we did as long as we kept our door closed."
People care now. Two years ago, U.N.H. banned smoking in dormitories, forcing Osborne and other refugee smokers to light up outside. Then last April the university not only imposed a perimeter restriction, prohibiting smoking within 20 ft. of campus-building doorways, but also expanded the ban to forbid smoking in the football stadium, in university vehicles and refreshment areas, at bus stops and ATMs.
The new restrictions, without the provision of a designated area for smokers, make the U.N.H. policy among the most comprehensive at any college in the nation. But U.N.H. is one of a growing number of U.S. colleges and universities that are hardening the line against smokers. The trend started in the late '80s with mild prohibitions on smoking in academic buildings and has recently gained a sharper edge. Under the subtle acronym COUGH (Campuses Organized and United for Good Health), student antismoking advocates at eight California state colleges have banded together to push for tougher smoking rules throughout the state system. Officials at the University of Washington have not only outlawed the sale and advertising of tobacco products but also divested the university's interest in tobacco stocks. "Colleges are finally hopping on the clean-air boat," says Lori Fresina, director of the American Cancer Society's Smoke-Free New England. "That's because their new customer base is enlightened students coming from predominantly smoke-free environments. In many cases, it's the students leading administrators."
Still, reformers are finding that it isn't easy for colleges to kick the smoking habit. Throughout the '90s, cigarette marketing was so ubiquitous on campuses that you would have thought Joe Camel had tenure. From 1993 to '99, tobacco use among students increased 28%. Alarmed by the rising rate of student smokers and armed with a Harvard study showing that students living in nonsmoking dorms are less likely to pick up the addiction, college officials turned to antitobacco advocates for help in drafting new policies. The number of state universities with smoke-free dorms has doubled, to 26, over the past two years. Says Cassandra Foust, a spokeswoman for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.: "We respect the rights of colleges and universities to establish no-smoking policies on campus."
Leading the antismoking campaign at U.N.H. is Marc Hiller, a professor of health management and policy and the school's self-proclaimed clean-air czar. Sitting in an office overrun by public-health tomes and tobacco-research manuals, Hiller, 52, articulates a campus no-smoking initiative with the same kind of fervor that President Bush reserves for declarations about Saddam Hussein.
"The only way to win here is to cut this thing off at the root," declares Hiller. "Nicotine is more addictive than heroin, so you've got to come at it hard."