Campus News

UK Celebrates 10 Years of Being a Tobacco-Free Campus

photo of tobacco free ambassadors at event
The ambassadors from Tobacco-Free Take Action! have been instrumental in UK's success as a tobacco-free campus.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 20, 2019) – Ten years ago, University of Kentucky administrators, students, faculty and staff made the decision to become a tobacco-free campus, prohibiting all tobacco products including e-cigarettes, indoors and out, on all UK property. Since then, the university has become a healthier place to live, work and learn.

“Tobacco use remains the single most preventable cause of heart and lung disease, as well as nearly all forms of cancer in Kentucky and it costs all of us as taxpayers over $1.9 billion every year treating people who get sick from tobacco use,” said Ellen Hahn, Ph.D., professor in the UK College of Nursing. “Smoke-free communities and tobacco-free campuses act as a ‘vaccine’ to protect entire communities from the enormous toll caused by tobacco use.”

Hahn and Anthany Beatty, assistant vice president for Public Safety, helped spearhead policy adoption under then-President Lee Todd. “The vision and guidance provided by the UK campus leadership was critical to the implementation of our tobacco-free campus efforts. It was an energized, collaborative effort involving a diverse cross-section of campus representatives,” said Beatty, who continues to serve as co-chair of the Tobacco-free Campus Committee. “We also appreciate those who continue to work on and support our campus policy.”

UK’s tobacco-free campus is recognized by the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation as a gold standard for policy adoption and implementation, joining over 2,000 tobacco-free college campuses in the US. Bolstered by UK’s success, other Kentucky campuses have implemented similar policies over the past 10 years.

 “At the time of UK’s policy adoption, UK was the only tobacco-free campus in Kentucky,” said Melinda Ickes, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion, in the UK College of Education and co-chair of the Tobacco-free Campus Committee. “Now, there are almost 80 campuses with comprehensive smoke- or tobacco-free policies in the state. We work with many of these campuses and continue to share evidence-based approaches. We have provided assistance to over 500 campuses and organizations using our 3Ts approach – tell, treat and train – which has been successful on our campus. There is a continued need to reinforce the wide-reaching impact these policies have.”

To date, over a thousand students and employees have participated in UK’s tobacco treatment programs. These programs are either free or low cost for staff and students and are offered in person or by phone through UK Health and Wellness and University Health Services.

“The university has made a strong commitment to helping tobacco users on campus get support and resources to quit,” said Audrey Darville, associate professor in the UK College of Nursing and a Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist who works with employees to quit tobacco products. “These services can be tailored to individual preference and convenience.”

To celebrate UK’s success, the Tobacco-free Campus Committee, along with partners who have been committed to this policy since the beginning, will host the Tobacco-free Tailgate celebration on Thursday, Nov. 21 from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. at Barker Plaza at the Gatton Student Center. All are invited to join UK cheerleaders, mascot and the UK drumline and majorettes for food, games, t-shirt giveaways, a photo booth and enter for the opportunity to win UK football or basketball tickets. This event is free and open to all students, faculty and staff.

At the tailgate, the Tobacco-free Take Action! ambassadors will be onsite to answer questions about policy compliance and give tips on how to engage with someone who uses tobacco or vapes on campus. Ambassadors work daily to improve compliance on campus, including approaching those not adhering to the policy, sharing information on our treatment resources, completing signage assessments, promoting policy awareness on social media, developing messaging strategies to target emerging products like e-cigarettes/vaping, and maintaining a presence at university events throughout the year. Their efforts have made a difference, as is reinforced in published research, and our model is being replicated successfully across campuses nationwide.

“Being an ambassador has taught me the importance of a tobacco-free policy, and how to promote this policy effectively,” said Sierrah Miley, a senior majoring in Kinesiology, who has been an ambassador since her freshmen year. “Along with enforcing the policy, our team strives to be health advocates and a resource for staff, students, and visitors. When approaching those who are not adhering to the policy, individuals almost always respond positively, and want to learn more about the nicotine replacement therapy options and programs we offer. We are dedicated to making UK a healthier place, and truly love making a difference.”

As the use of e-cigarettes and vaping products becomes more popular and the health risks are widely covered in the news, there is a need to reinforce that these products are included in UK’s tobacco-free policy. “Our research reinforces this is an issue among our college students, with almost one in four reporting past 30 day Juul use,” said Ickes. “Many report using [Juuls] daily. The Tobacco-free Tailgate is not only an opportunity to celebrate our policy anniversary, but it allows us to share information about vaping as well as the numerous quitting resources available.”

“We have a lot to celebrate on this ten year anniversary,” said Ickes. “However, we must continue to be vigilant in our efforts and it will take all of us to continue to see a positive impact 10 years from now.”

Want to get involved? The Tobacco-free Campus Committee and our hard-working ambassadors are asking for everyone’s help in keeping UK a healthy place to live, work, and learn.

  • If you see something, say something. Compliance is everyone’s business. The policy includes everyone, including campus visitors and contractors. Report violations using the online report line.
  • Spread the word that use of e-cigarettes/vaping is not permitted anywhere on campus. Use of e-cigarettes is not a safe and healthy alternative to smoking, and secondhand aerosol emitted from these devices puts people around you at risk.
  • Support is available. Low and no-cost resources are available for anyone who wants to quit tobacco, including those who want to quit using e-cigarettes/vaping.
  • Get involved. Students can sign up for “Tobacco-free Take Action! Health Advocates” on BBNvolved and follow us on Twitter @UKTakeAction

For more information on UK’s tobacco-free policy:


As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.