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Smoke-free college trend growing

  • Story Highlights
  • American Cancer Society: Trend of smoke-free colleges is growing
  • Nearly 60 U.S. colleges have smoke-free policies that affect entire campus
  • Cancer society: U.S. smoking prevalence highest among people ages 18-24
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By Judy Fortin
CNN
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GAINESVILLE, Georgia (CNN) -- When 19-year-old Reid Overton wants to smoke a cigarette on his college campus, he has to walk to a distant parking lot and get into his car, but he doesn't seem to mind. "Even as a smoker, I don't like to walk past a cloud of smoke," he says.

Reid Overton, a freshman at Gainesville State College in Georgia, heads to his car when he wants a smoke.

Overton is one of 5,300 students at Gainesville State College, an hour north of Atlanta, Georgia. A 4-year-old ban prohibits anyone from using tobacco products on campus, including students, faculty and visitors.

A smoke-free campus was the brainchild of longtime college president Martha Nesbitt, herself a former smoker. "It's just a healthier place to be," says Nesbitt, "because as you go in a building, you're not going to have to go through smoke. When you walk out, you don't see cigarette butts littered around. It's just a cleaner, healthier campus."

Nesbitt reports there haven't been any problems enforcing the ban. Signs are posted around campus, and the policy is prominently displayed on everything from the school Web site to admissions applications.

The American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation reports nearly 60 college campuses around the United States have smoke-free policies that affect the entire campus.

Other schools have limited restrictions, banning smoking indoors in residential housing and student facilities. Nesbitt believes her college is one of the first to fully prohibit the use of tobacco products.Video Watch more on efforts to curb smoking on campus »

The American Cancer Society says the movement is catching on. "The trend toward a smoke-free country is going on everywhere," says Daniel Smith, president of the American Cancer Society Action Network. "I think college campuses are simply reflecting the same trend we're seeing in society."

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With the 30th anniversary this week of the nationwide Great American Smokeout, the cancer society is pushing a smoke-free college campus initiative. It encourages campus coordinators to hold competitions and distribute survival kits that include gum and support information.

The group is trying to convince students that if they can quit for a day, they can quit for good. According to the cancer society, the prevalence of smoking in the United States is highest among college-age students, ages 18 to 24. While other age groups are decreasing their tobacco use, the cancer society says college students are smoking at a greater rate.

Those statistics worry Smith. "We know that 30 percent of all cancers are caused by smoking," he says. He blames the addiction rates among young adults on heavy marketing efforts on college campuses by tobacco companies.

"Many people might initially think it's cool. But when they're educated about the health effects, by that time, they are addicted, and it's very hard to quit."

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Overton isn't all that worried about cutting back on his pack-a-day smoking habit, but he says that long walk to his car has provided some added benefits. "It doesn't encourage me to quit, but it does encourage me to cut back some."

That's welcome news for some of his nonsmoking classmates. "I'm not forced to be around all of the smokers," says freshman Matthew Bradford, 19. "I'm not breathing it in all of the time, and it's nice to get some fresh air when you get out of class." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Judy Fortin is a correspondent with CNN Medical News.

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