Lehigh University’s tobacco and smoke-free policy prohibits all tobacco use indoors and outdoors for all Lehigh University campus grounds, facilities and vehicles.
Smoking, vaping, hookahs, electronic smoking devices and smokeless tobacco products are prohibited for students, faculty, staff and visitors. Campus organizations are prohibited from accepting gifts from tobacco companies, and there can be no tobacco-related advertising on university property.
The rules were put in place over a year ago on Aug. 2, 2021.
Before this new policy was implemented, smoking was allowed outside at a distance from building entrances.
“(This policy is important) for the overall general health and wellness of students, faculty and staff who work or study on this campus,” said Dr. Steven Bowers, medical director of the Health and Wellness Center. “Tobacco smoke is a known carcinogen and can lead to many other health issues.”
According to the CDC, more than 16 million Americans are living with a smoking-related disease. Secondhand smoke exposure contributes to approximately 41,000 deaths among nonsmoking adults and 400 deaths in infants each year. According to the American Lung Association, more than 5.6 million young Americans will die early from a smoking-related illness.
With the policy change, Lehigh joined more than 2,000 colleges and universities that are already tobacco- and smoke-free campuses.
Fiona Mensching, ‘24, said she remembered there was no campus-wide smoke-free policy during her freshman year and thought it was “kind of weird.”
“A lot of universities and different institutions are completely smoke-free at this point, so it made sense for Lehigh to join,” Mensching said. “It just encourages healthier habits, creates a healthier environment and leads to better air quality.”
In the May 2021 policy announcement, Lehigh explained prohibiting all tobacco use — not just smoking —“aligns with our community-wide commitment to fostering health and wellness and promotes cessation for students, faculty and staff.”
According to the policy announcement, enforcement of the policy is handled separately for faculty and staff compared to students. For faculty and staff, it is handled as a management issue, and for students, it is considered a behavioral issue.
Christopher Mulvihill, associate dean of students, said the policy has not increased the number of conduct causes related to smoking in the past year. On average, there are very few smoking cases and only a few secondary cases, like covered smoke detectors.
“I think what (the policy) does is it supports a societal movement to decrease smoking,” Mulvihill said. “When I was in college, everybody smoked. It was just the cool thing to do. … It was just part of the culture.”
The announcement cited a study stating that completely smoke-free workplaces are associated with a 3.8% reduction in the prevalence of smoking. Additionally, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, those who don’t start using tobacco by age 26 will likely never start.
According to the Health Advancement & Prevention Strategies Office’s biannual Life at Lehigh: Community and Well-Being Survey, only a small percentage of undergraduate students surveyed use tobacco or nicotine products.
In the survey, students were asked, “Since the beginning of the academic year, which of the following substances have you used?” Among the substances listed were tobacco or nicotine delivery products (cigarettes, e-cigarettes, Juul or other vape products, water pipe or hookah, chewing tobacco, etc.)
In the fall of 2020, 12.2% of undergraduate students surveyed indicated they had used tobacco products since the beginning of the academic year. In the fall of 2021, it rose to 21.3% of undergraduate students surveyed.
An anonymous source, ‘23, first tried nicotine at 16, started consistently using their sophomore year of college and purchased their first vape midway through their junior year.
“I can smoke cigarettes on campus and vape in class. No one is going to say (anything),” the anonymous source said. “The policy doesn’t really do anything.”
In a written response, Mulvihill said it is the responsibility of everyone in the Lehigh community to keep each other accountable.
“It is all of our responsibility to say something,” Mulvihill wrote. “Not out of a sense of punishment, but out of a sense of caring about our community members.”
While the anonymous source is attempting to stop smoking and using tobacco products, they say it does not have anything to do with Lehigh or its campus-wide ban on tobacco products. Rather, it is related to personal health concerns.
“Sometimes policies … they’re not necessarily about changing behavior,” Mulvihill said. “They’re about supporting behavior that’s already changed. Does the policy catch more people smoking? Probably not. But what the policy does say is, ‘We don’t accept this here, so don’t do it.’”