Sameer Nayfeh was a smoker for more than half his life.

But now that the University of Central Florida is going smoke-free, so is the 42-year-old campus employee. With UCF’s help, Nayfeh is kicking the habit he started at 19.

“My kids are happy for me, too,” said Nayfeh, who works in lab support and property control for the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science.

UCF is joining hundreds of colleges and universities around the nation that have a tobacco and/or smoke-free policy in place. The new initiative begins the first day of the fall semester – Monday, Aug. 20 – and applies to employees, students, visitors, vendors and others while on UCF-owned or leased properties, including university vehicles.

The initiative was put into motion last year by President John C. Hitt to encourage healthy lifestyles and change the university community’s behavior so that everyone’s right to clean air is respected. (The website has FAQs, information about smoking-cessation classes, a schedule of workshops to learn about the policy, and how to submit a question about the policy.)

Another campus employee, Molly McCarter, said she was motivated to stop her 20-year smoking habit because she started running for exercise last year and now is training for a marathon.

“It certainly is easier to run when you don’t smoke,” said McCarter, production manager and coordinator of stage management for Theatre UCF. “Who knew? Everybody knows! Everyone who picks up a cigarette knows what it does to them.”

Nayfeh and McCarter said they have tried to quit numerous times through the years, but this time they vowed to succeed in advance of the university’s policy.

“I tried several times to stop, but they were short – days, even hours,” said Nayfeh, who recently attended a smoking-cessation class on campus that offered tips, motivational advice and support from fellow classmates.

“This time it was really different. I was lucky to have all the support from the class, and I took it more as a challenge this time. I figured that if I took just one cigarette, like I used to, I’d go back.”

McCarter said nicotine-replacement patches were certainly helpful, but her biggest trick to stop smoking was exercise.

“Every time I wanted a cigarette I’d go into the bathroom and do about 20 jumping jacks,” she said.

UCF Health Services officials have boosted support for the campaign by getting endorsements from groups around campus, such as the Faculty Senate, USPS Staff Council, Student Government Association, HR Liaison Network, Greek Council, Fraternity and Sorority Life, and others.

Mary Schmidt-Owens, co-chair of the campaign steering committee and UCF’s assistant director of Medical and Health Administration, said UCF joins more than 700 other colleges and universities with similar policies.

“I am hopeful that as the result of the policy there will be fewer students picking up the habit,” Schmidt-Owens said. “What begins as an occasional social behavior quickly becomes a daily habit, often resulting in an addiction to cigarette smoking. I see this policy as the first step in discouraging a lifelong habit.”

The university hopes that employees and students become ambassadors of the campaign and model healthy behaviors for others to follow. Anyone aware of someone smoking on the campus is encouraged to politely explain the policy and ask the smoker to comply.

Efforts will focus on increasing the awareness of the policy instead of fining or punishing smokers. The policy will be reviewed after a year just like other new policies that are put into place, Schmidt-Owens said.

The university has been providing cessation services and resources – including individual and group classes, support groups, counseling, self-help materials and medications – to employees and students who want to quit. For a list of upcoming classes, check the website.

JeVeire Moore, a Health Services pharmacist, said free nicotine-replacement therapy is available for those in the smoking-cessation program, and nicotine-replacement patches, gum and lozenges can be purchased by anyone at the UCF Health Center.

Nayfeh and McCarter encourage others to take the class to improve their own health.

“When smokers wake up, they have a horrible taste in their mouths. But they get used to it,” Nayfeh said. “They should quit for their health, for their looks, their smell. Everything has changed for me. For the people who still smoke, I wish them a better life without it.”