Making Campuses Tobacco-Free

By Ty A. Patterson
July, 2010


The author describes the process Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC) went through to become one of the first institutions in the US to implement a completely tobacco-free campus policy in 2003 and the methods used to help other institutions consider, develop, implement, and sustain similar policies through the Center of Excellence for Tobacco-Free Campus Policy.


Ty Patterson served five higher education institutions in Kansas and Missouri as a student affairs administrator for thirty seven years. For all but seven he was the chief student affairs officer in his institution. He held positions of responsibility in the American College Personnel Association and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators at the state, regional and national level. In 2006 he was honored with the Richard Capel Award by the Missouri College Personnel Association for Outstanding Contribution to the Student Affairs Profession. In 2007 he received the Region IV-West Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. Mr. Patterson is a Viet Nam Veteran. He is married and has three children and one grandchild. He retired in 2008 but serves part time as the Director of the Center of Excellence for Tobacco-Free Campus Policy at OTC.


In 1997, President Norman K. Myers asked me to look into getting tobacco use off the campus. This began a journey which culminated in OTC becoming tobacco-free in 2003.  OTC was established by voters in 1990 and opened for the first semester in August, 1991 with an enrollment of 1100 credit students in rented facilities in Springfield Missouri. OTC has grown to 12,000 students and more than 1000 employees on campuses in Springfield and Christian County, and at Education Centers in Lebanon, Waynesville and Branson Missouri. OTC is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (, a regional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Our current accreditation status can be viewed here. Our next comprehensive evaluation will be in 2020-2021. It is a commuter institution with no athletic programs. The Main Campus is located in the north central part of Springfield on 47 acres surrounded by residences and businesses. The Richwood Valley Campus, opened in 2006 is located on 88 acres between Ozark and Nixa in the fastest growing county in Missouri. The average age of students is 23. They enroll in 9 hours per term in one of approximately 40 Technical, Allied Health and General Education programs. Roughly 60% plan to transfer to a four year institution and 40% are pursuing certificates or associate degrees in Technical or Allied Health programs preparing them for employment upon completion. Around 25% take evening courses and 20% are enrolled in courses taught on the internet. Community Enrichment (Non-Credit) and Work Force Development programs serve over 5,000 people each year.  Roughly 600 high school students attend OTCs Vocational-Technical programs annually.

When I was given this assignment I had no idea how to proceed.  So I began searching for a completely tobacco-free or smoke-free institution. Despite many phone calls all across the country I couldnt find an institution that had done so! In the many conversations I had, two things stood out. Institutions often stated they were tobacco-free when there were only restrictions on tobacco use or smoking and it seemed everyone complained they could not enforce their policy. Many expressed doubt we could succeed with a completely tobacco-free campus but all of them asked me to let them know if it worked because they were interested. I went to the president and told him I had good news and bad news. As a typical college president he asked for the bad news first. I told him I could not find an institution that had a 100% tobacco-free campus. To which he replied, whats the good news? I told him if we could be successful we would be a leader on this initiative and there would be a lot of people beating a path to our door to find out how we did it. He told me to keep working and come up with a plan to present to the cabinet. Over the next year and a half I constructed a process that I believed would make a tobacco-free campus policy enforceable. The key to my plan was to do everything possible to achieve compliance with the policy.

In December 1999, with the cabinets unanimous support, the president recommended the Board of Trustees adopt a policy making the campus tobacco-free effective August, 2003. In my work with those interested in pursuing tobacco-free policy I cite the decision to allow more than three years for implementation and the support of the president as the most important factors in our success. Remember, there was no hard scientific evidence of the deleterious effects of second hand smoke (SHS) in 1999. The time gave us the opportunity to explain the reasons for the policy, and seek support of our employees before doing the same with our students. President Myers appointed a Task Force representing all areas of the college and asked me to be the Chair. The purpose of the task force was to discuss the policy and if appropriate make recommendations. We decided on the theme Tobacco-Free in 03. But, we couldnt agree on much else. We spent a lot of time listening to reasons why the policy was wrong and would never work. As expected the strongest opposition was based on the problem of enforcement. Some argued the policy exemplified political correctness gone amok, others that it was simply unfair to smokers.  Some thought it was draconian. But the broadest objection was that the policy could not be enforced.  We conducted surveys of staff (and later of students) that consistently found roughly two thirds supported the policy, and one third opposed or expressing no opinion. After ten months the Task Force had fulfilled its purpose to be a venue for discussion but could not agree on recommendations. At my request, Dr. Myers replaced the Task Force with a committee with the objective of developing a plan to implement the policy. I was asked to be the Chair.

The Implementation Committee was comprised of people who with a couple of exceptions had not served on the Task Force. For the next two years the committee met every two months or so to move the process forward. The major accomplishment of the group was to move from arguing against, to building support for, the policy. One of the most important developments was the clarification of the reasons for the policy as follows: create a campus environment free of exposure to tobacco smoke and refuse; stop giving tacit approval of tobacco use by those underage; improve the beauty of the campus; prepare students for the growing trend toward tobacco-free workplaces; and to be a leader in public health policy for our service area.  The other was to address the issue of enforcement. The strategy was to take enforcement out of the equation. This was to be done by emphasizing education and seeking compliance. And we decided there should be no penalty for non-compliance with the policy when it went into effect and until circumstances required. Our plan was to make people aware of the policy, ask for their compliance and above all treat them with respect. We recommended not enforcing the policy in peoples private vehicles on our parking lots because we knew we could not succeed given the number of vehicles, the problem of entering personal space and the desire to give tobacco users a place to go without leaving campus. These and other recommendations were made to strengthen compliance and achieve self enforcement. The president accepted the recommendations and supported our approach throughout the remainder of his tenure. His successor, Dr. Hal Higdon has continued to support the policy in every way possible.

In August 1, 2003 the policy went into effect with NO problem whatever! Despite threats of reprisal including resignation, demonstrations and so on the implementation of the policy was smoother and less problematic than any of us imagined. Because of the comprehensive education program, effective messaging and no punitive approach based on seeking compliance and respect compliance was wonderful. Finally, in October 2004 we instituted a penalty for repeat non-compliance. The same penalty process is in effect at this writing. After one warning a second violation observed by the same person who issued the non written warning can report the offender to Safety and Security for a citation with a penalty of a $15 fine or two hours of labor picking up trash on campus. Since October 2004 we have had 51 citations issued (50 paid the fine, one chose to pick up trash.) This is in an institution of over 11,000 credit students and 1,000 full and part time employees on two campuses and at three education centers. We continue to use the following language in regard to tobacco use in enclosed private vehicles parked on campus: At this time we choose to not enforce the Tobacco-Free Campus Policy in peoples private vehicles. There are no cigarette receptacles on OTC property and we have much less tobacco refuse than before the policy went into effect

OTCs experience with the tobacco-free campus policy has been wonderful. We have had very little non-compliance and that occurs at the perimeter of the campus and out of the entrances/exits even in the most inclement weather. The policy has helped us teach respect for others and the environment. Visitors and vendors are made aware of the policy and asked to comply. Signage at building entrances, banners from light stanchions in parking lots, job announcements, student and employee orientations, student and faculty handbooks, the college catalog, faculty in-services, table tents at events on campus, the web site, contracts with those renting campus facilities, communication with vendors, bid specifications, and every method of messaging we can think of, informs that we are a tobacco-free campus.

After seven years of being tobacco-free it is evident we need to recommit to educating our faculty and staff about the policy. Although we still have good compliance there is evidence we need to place more emphasis on the policy. The work we did from 2000 to 2003 has faded. We need to remind everyone of the importance of their support. As new employees and students come we must help them understand why we have the policy. The good news is the importance of respecting others and the environment is more widely understood than when we started.


In 2004 our Tobacco-Free Advisory Committee, comprised of leaders from health care, education, civic, and the business community recommended, and President Myers approved, establishment of a Center of Excellence for Tobacco-Free Campus Policy to help others interested in making their campuses tobacco-free. Through workshops, on campus consultations, presentations at professional conferences, webinars and teleconferences, the center has helped over 300 institutions in the US and Canada learn how to make their open spaces tobacco-free or smoke-free.

When we began the journey to make our campus tobacco-free in 1997 we did not have a model to follow, there was no Surgeon Generals Report stating there is no safe level of exposure to second hand smoke (SHS,) businesses had not started adopting tobacco-free policies, and there was no discernable movement to treat others and the environment with respect on college campuses. As we proceeded to work through the issues it became clear there were some significant unanticipated benefits. I have never seen a college policy stimulate as much critical thinking. And, this policy treats all who are involved on the campus the same. This equality of effect is important in that many policies fall on students and employees differently. If you want to create an environment of mutuality this policy, developed thoughtfully, and implemented with abiding respect for all will help. As we tell everyone, this policy is not intended to get people to quit their dependency on tobacco. It is to eliminate the potential harmful effects of tobacco out of respect for others and the campus environment.  But, if even one person conquers their dependency on tobacco, all other things being equal, that person will live longer!  Can you think of a better added benefit of any policy?

We believe the future of the Center of Excellence for Tobacco-Free Campus Policy is bright. OTC has been the source of funding support since the Center was formed in 2004. With increased awareness of the ill effects of second and third hand smoke, growing interest in sustainability and greening initiatives, increased availability of funding; and our success in building a portfolio of institutions and organizations that have benefitted from our services; the potential for the center to become self sustaining is better than ever. Our goal is to build the capacity to help others develop, implement, sustain and demonstrate the efficacy of, tobacco-free open spaces.


The following individuals have direct experience with the services of the Center of Excellence for Tobacco-Free Campus Policy:

Hal Higdon, President, OTC, Springfield MO
Norman K. Myers, President Emeritus OTC, Springfield MO
John McGuire, President, St. Charles County Community College, St. Peter MO
Michael Taylor, President, Stanly College, Albemarle NC
Alice Marie Jacobs, President, Danville Area Community College, Danville ILL
Robert Exley, President, Snead State Community College, Boaz AL
Tim Nelson, President, Northwestern Michigan Community College, Traverse City MI
Prakash Mathew, Vice President Student Affairs, North Dakota State University, Fargo ND
Mary Alice Serafini, Director Pat Walker Health Center, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville AR
John Laws, Vice Chancellor, Indiana Vocational Community College, Lafayette IN
Linda Reisser, Dean of Students, Portland Community College, Portland OR