June 14, 2010— -- In less than one month, students at the University of Florida who smoke or use other tobacco products will have to find a way to go without them -- at least while they're on campus.
UF is implementing a tobacco-free policy on July 1, and it's part of a nationwide trend. In 2005, there were just 18 smoke-free colleges — now there are 394, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation. That number is continuing to grow. Other colleges that will implement a tobacco-free policy this July include the University of Central Oklahoma, Northwestern Michigan College and Widener University in Pennsylvania. Starting this August, all public universities in Arkansas will become smoke-free. Violators could be fined anywhere from $100 to $500.
Once a smoking or tobacco policy is in place, the issue becomes how to enforce it. UF's current policy states that people cannot smoke within 50 feet of any building on campus. However, 24-year-old UF Graduate James Smith often takes his smoking breaks right outside his workplace on UF's campus. He is usually about five feet from the building. People sometimes approach Smith and remind him of the smoking policy, but he doesn't listen.
"I just smile and keep smoking," Smith said. "There's not much they can really do. My bosses get on me about it, but if I'm on break, I'm not on the clock. They can't really do anything to me."
He says when the tobacco ban is implemented on UF's campus in July, he's not going to stop smoking on campus — unless the enforcement becomes more strict.
"If they actually hand out tickets … it's not worth it," Smith said.
That's exactly what Santa Rosa Junior College in California started doing when many students refused to comply with the tobacco-free policy. Although a community service officer would sometimes issue verbal warnings to students who violated the policy, it wasn't working. Students started showing up to student senate meetings, complaining of an area on campus where some people were still smoking.
"It was really heavily foot-trafficked, so no matter where you went you had to go through the section," said Santa Rosa Junior College Student Amanda Swan. "It was causing pretty much everyone to breathe it in."
Tickets for Smoking on Campus
In 2008, Swan joined a committee to find a better way to enforce the policy. In 2009, the college adopted the Santa Rosa city ordinance that states there can be no smoking in certain places such as public use areas. The college fell under the public use category and was able to adopt the city ordinance. This gave district police the authority to issue tickets to anyone caught smoking on campus. Swan said that alone has pretty much stopped the compliance problems.
UF Spokesman Steve Orlando said UF is not considering taking that kind of legal measure.
"We feel like our officers probably have more pressing matters than to catch people smoking cigarettes," Orlando said.
He said UF will enforce the tobacco-free policy in other ways.
"With employees, it can become an employment issue," Orlando said. "If an employee violates a policy, there are measures for dealing with that ... it can become a performance issue after a while."
Orlando said students who violate the policy could face disciplinary action because it will become a "student judicial matter," but he said the best way to enforce the rule will be peer pressure.
"Nobody wants to be looked at as an outcast," Orlando said. "It will be a cultural change over time."
But Smith thinks UF is going too far by banning all tobacco products.
"You start taking away people's rights to do stuff, and eventually we become complacent," Smith said. "And complacency is one of the worst evils."
Smith said he doesn't think the university should interfere with something that is his personal choice.
"I'm not forcing anyone to sit near me," Smith said. "I'm not blowing smoke in other people's faces. I don't purposely smoke next to people who aren't smoking. It's just ridiculous. They're trying to mandate lifestyle."
But Orlando disagrees.
"I can understand why people might feel that way," Orlando said. "But our goal is really a lot more pure than that. It's not to 'mandate lifestyles,' it's to help lead people to live a better lifestyle."
Some students who smoke think the ban will actually benefit them.
"It's a pretty good thing for me because I want to reduce my smoking," said 25-year-old UF graduate student Chrysafis Vogiatzis.
Vogiatzis said although he knows some smokers feel it is their right to smoke, he thinks they are wrong.
"It is not exactly a right," Vogiatzis said. "A right to free air is more important for everyone. I don't think it's a right to smoke. We're not born with a cigarette in our mouths."
ABCNews.com contributor Amy Rigby is a member of the University of Florida ABC News on Campus bureau.