TAMPA — Senior Daniel LaForce puffed on a blue e-cigarette and exhaled outside the Marshall Student Center on the campus of the University of South Florida last week. The rising gray smoke quickly disappeared into the air — just like USF's 25 smoking zones will next year.
USF recently announced the Tampa campus will become tobacco-free starting Jan. 4.
"We've been on a journey to going tobacco- and smoke-free since 2011," USF's Environmental Health and Safety director Beverly Daly said. "It's a natural step in the progression of that process."
Though the campus has had a policy limiting tobacco use since 2012, the big change will be the elimination of smoking zones campuswide.
Smoking will be banned along with all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, whether indoors or outdoors.
Overall, USF students have been supportive of the changes, Daly said.
"The goal is not to punish people," Daly said, "but to change behaviors to achieve the smoke- and tobacco-free environment that a majority of the USF community has been seeking."
But not everyone is ready for a tobacco-free environment.
LaForce, 27, isn't pleased with the new policy.
"I can totally get behind saying they're going to move smoking areas farther away," he said, his e-cigarette by his side. "But taking them away entirely and grouping e-cigarettes into it? That's ridiculous. We're outdoors and out of the way."
The USF system's other campuses — USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee — already ban smoking and tobacco products, Daly said. Transitioning the Tampa campus, USF's flagship, was the next step in the process.
Tampa Bay's other colleges have varied policies on tobacco products and smoking.
Hillsborough Community College has been smoke- and tobacco-free since 2013. The University of Tampa and Pasco-Hernando State College have a rule similar to the USF Tampa campus' expiring policy: smoking zones sprinkled throughout campus, while tobacco products and smoking are prohibited everywhere else.
Only St. Petersburg College allows people to smoke freely outdoors on any of its campuses across Pinellas County.
USF Tampa's new policy will be a "peer-enforced system." Everyone at USF — students, professors, employees — will be encouraged to inform others about the rule and ask violators to stop smoking or using tobacco products while on campus.
"Students should feel empowered to approach someone who is using tobacco and tell them to discontinue the activity," Daly said.
There may be sanctions, as well. Complaints against students who use tobacco on campus will be handled by the USF Division of Student Affairs. Faculty or staff who violate the policy will answer to their supervisors.
Some USF students, like Morgan Gmytruk, think taking away the zones will lead to students smoking freely throughout the campus.
While the 21-year-old health science major doesn't relish the idea of a smoke-filled campus, she doesn't think the zones should completely disappear, either.
"People shouldn't get to smoke wherever they want. I don't want to be walking to class surrounded by smoke," she said. "But if they're in their outside designated spots, I don't have a problem with it. Where else are people going to smoke now?"
One of the biggest policy changes, Daly said, is that there won't be any leniency for on-campus activities, such as athletic events, theater performances or events at the USF Sun Dome. Whatever the reason, the USF Tampa community won't be allowed to smoke.
Daly said the university isn't asking people to quit smoking or using tobacco, just to refrain from doing so on campus. For people who want to quit, the university offers smoking cessation classes.
When students return from winter break Jan. 4 — the spring semester starts Jan. 11 — the 25 smoking zones will be gone, with tobacco-free signs up in their place.
Tobacco users will have to light up, inhale or chew somewhere else.
"It's tough for people who smoke," said Caroline Bell, a 22-year-old junior. "I get that, because it's a habit, but I also see why they're doing it. Sure, maybe if you smoke, what are you supposed to do now? But the health reasons are important, too."
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