It's a new semester on campus, a fresh start in the classroom and for those who choose to light up. One year ago, University of Tennessee Chattanooga announced they plan to go smoke-free. The new policy began on January 1, 2019, the goal is to make the campus life healthier for students and faculty.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States and secondhand smoke causes more than 40,000 deaths per year for nonsmokers. School officials said these some of the reasons why UTC decided to implement a smoke-free campus.

"We would see people smoking and it was just a common thing, so when everyone first heard about it, it was like is this really going to work? Is it going to actually happen? Is it going to be implemented?” said Haley Wilson, UTC student.

Starting this week it's official: the new smoke-free policy says no student, staff member or school visitor is permitted to use any light-up tobacco product including cigarettes, pipes, vapes and e-cigarettes on school property. This shouldn't come as a surprise since Tricia Henderson with the Center for Wellbeing said the school made the announcement last year.     

"We did take a year to kind of slowly roll out the implementation and give our campus time to acclimate to the fact that we are going smoke-free,” Henderson said.

UTC said a conscious decision was made to allow a full year to implement this policy. This allowed the community time to spread the word around campus and the wider Chattanooga community about the policy change. It also allowed advanced access to cessation and nicotine-replacement support for members of the UTC community that may be interested in these resources before the policy went into effect.

Smoking will also be prohibited within 25 feet of all doorways, windows, and ventilation systems of all university buildings.

Several campus entities will help enforce the rules, but school officials said it's more about making sure people can get help if they want it. Students think this approach will work best with their peers.

"The cessation program that we're going to offer allows them to get the help and the resources to quit if they want to but also not shaming them,” Wilson said.

UTC said anyone should feel comfortable approaching and addressing anyone who might not be in compliance with this policy, but they are not expected to police campus. Instead, they encourage people to report to the appropriate individual if they observe someone breaking this campus policy. This might include residence hall director, supervisor or UTC police. You can also complete an incident report form. 

Henderson admits, there has been some pushback from the campus community. However, a poll showed 90% of the school says they are already tobacco-free and are in support of this policy.          

"We want this to be a place where our students, faculty and staff to know that we care about their health, that we want to provide them the resources and we want to give everybody the opportunity to live in a healthy way on campus,” Henderson said.

UTC said there won't be designated smoking areas because they can still expose others to secondhand smoke and can also create litter on campus.

More than 2,100 colleges and universities across the U.S. have adopted smoke-free policies, including Chattanooga State Community College, which went smoke-free in 2016, and UT Knoxville, in 2018.

UTC Student Health Services will support any student, faculty or staff member who needs assistance to quit smoking. Students, as well as faculty and staff, can visit Student Health Services for a no-cost assessment of current use, presentation and discussion of options, and prescription of cessation approaches if desired/necessary. For more information, contact UTC Student Health Services at (423) 425-2266.

For those who have concerns about the policy, students should contact the Dean of Students Office; employees should contact UTC Human Resources. Inquires also can be directed to smoke-free@utc.edu.