Since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched a nationwide Tobacco Free Campus Initiative, Truth Initiative has focused on helping community colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) bring tobacco-free policies to the campuses that serve young adults from minority and low-income communities.

Truth Initiative has already awarded grants to 38 public community colleges. Each community college received up to $5,000 per year to advocate for, adopt, and implement a 100 percent smoke-free or tobacco-free policy. Those campuses serve more than half a million students, touch nearly 40,000 faculty and staff and span 18 states.

Why community colleges? Research shows that 17.8 percent of students with an associate degree smoke, compared to 9.1 percent of students with an undergraduate degree. And community colleges serve nearly half – 45 percent – of the undergraduate students in the U.S. With an estimated enrollment of 13 million, community colleges are a gateway to postsecondary education for many people of color, low-income and first-generation college students. Many of these populations suffer disproportionately from tobacco use and the consequences of secondhand smoke. 

And the same is true of populations served by HBCUs. Tobacco remains the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the U.S. Each year, approximately 47,000 African Americans die from smoking-related disease. While the overall use of cigarettes by youth in the U.S. has declined, smoking among ethnic minorities is still prevalent.

In collaboration with a national group of partners led by former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, Truth Initiative has made grants to 33 HBCUs that together serve more than 107,000 students. There are 105 federally recognized HBCUs in the U.S., and most do not have comprehensive smoke- or tobacco-free policies to protect students and faculty from the dangers of tobacco use and secondhand smoke. 

 “Our HBCU initiative will take us to every campus that lacks a comprehensive policy to address tobacco use,” said Amber Bullock, MPH, executive vice president and chief community and youth engagement officer at Truth Initiative. “Young African American lives are at stake and we are proud to be collaborating with the HBCUs dedicated to educating those young people to protect them from tobacco-related illness and death.” 

“With more than 99 percent of current smokers starting before the age of 27, college campuses are critical partners in reducing tobacco use and death,” said Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative. “As the first national initiatives focused on community colleges and HBCUs, we want to help them make smoking and tobacco use a thing of the past.”