They once stood as majestic symbols of the power of Big Tobacco, universities built or bolstered by cigarette fortunes. Today, those same campuses have come to reflect a society turning away from the golden leaf.

At Duke University, Wake Forest University and most recently the University of North Carolina, efforts to restrict smoking and the on-campus sale of cigarettes have raised plenty of irony, but barely a whiff of protest.

"As long as they're not going to say no smoking on campus, it doesn't bother me," UNC art student Jessica Largent said after snuffing a cigarette in the shadow of a campus building that bears the name of the daughter of a former R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. vice president.

The changing attitudes come as an industry that was once one of North Carolina's economic mainstays has been pushed aside by a state increasingly focused on high technology. With the decline in smoking and the rise of overseas growers, the number of tobacco farmers in North Carolina has fallen 39 percent in the past decade and the amount grown has been cut in half.

"Its importance has declined relative to the new economy," said UNC history professor Jim Leloudis. "The balance in some ways has tipped. . . . It's no longer so central that it is untouchable."

And while school leaders here and in Virginia and South Carolina still gratefully accept tobacco-related donations, that has not stopped them from imposing smoking restrictions that put them in line with other schools nationally.

At Duke, where a statue of tobacco magnate and benefactor James B. Duke shows him proudly puffing on a cigar, smoking is banned in all buildings and only one campus outlet sells tobacco.

Wake Forest may owe its very existence to tobacco. In 1956, heirs of the R.J. Reynolds fortune used the promise of a new, 14-building campus to persuade officials of the foundering Baptist school to make the 100-mile move from north of Raleigh to Winston-Salem. Over the years, the college has received nearly $130 million from Reynolds heirs or the company.

But that did not stop Wake Forest from barring smoking in many campus buildings and limiting it in residence halls. It also dropped the name of Bowman Gray, a former RJR president, from its medical school in 1997. School leaders insist the change had nothing to do with Gray's line of work, but some doctors had undoubtedly chafed at working under the name of a tobacco magnate.

At North Carolina, school-run stores have been told no more cigarettes will be sold once existing stocks sell out, and smoking will be banned in dormitories beginning this summer.

Tobacco has deep roots at the state's flagship university. UNC has educated at least three R.J. Reynolds presidents, and Reynolds heirs or company leaders have established trusts -- one worth nearly $11 million -- that have endowed scholarships, supplemented professor pay and financed other initiatives.

But on a recent midday, as cigarette smoke drifted over a pack of cheerleaders advertising tryouts and sorority members gathering in chorus outside the student union, even smokers seemed resigned to the changes.

Jerry Warren, a former student sitting a few steps behind the cheerleaders' table at UNC, conceded that school leaders should control what happens in the buildings they run.

But as he finished another cigarette he wondered what some older university supporters think of recent policy changes.

"I know this university is kind of an old-money university, and a lot of the old money in this state was made in tobacco," he said.

Duke continues to collect annual donations from an endowment built when tobacco was king. Now worth more than $2 billion, the endowment created by James B. Duke in the 1920s supports religion, education and health care in the Carolinas. One of its first major donations, in 1924, led to struggling Trinity College being refounded as Duke University.

In 2003, Duke received almost $30 million from the endowment, which now has almost no tobacco-related holdings. School spokesman Keith Lawrence said the university does not allow its tobacco roots to affect present-day policies.

The Duke Endowment also gives about $3 million a year to Johnson C. Smith University and Davidson College, both in the Charlotte area, and to Furman University in Greenville, S.C. All have rules limiting smoking on campus. Davidson threatens to fine students $50 for a first violation of smoking rules and goes so far as to evict them from campus housing for repeated offenses.

Don Lineback, Furman's vice president for development, said Duke money kept the school alive during the Depression.

"If you look closely at all major gifts, there's going to be something that somebody criticizes," Lineback said. "I think the important thing is the good that the funds do. . . . They have given needy students access to a first-rate education who otherwise never would have had one."

Industry leader Philip Morris, based in Richmond, has spread its millions of dollars in giving. In addition to donating research money, the company has endowed business scholarships and professorships for at least four Virginia universities, including the University of Virginia and the University of Richmond.

Last year, the school agreed to lease a 200,000-square-foot building to Philip Morris for its new corporate headquarters. The deal, valued at an estimated $37.5 million over 15 years, led some students to worry that the university would be beholden to Big Tobacco.

Cheryl Healton, president of the anti-smoking American Legacy Foundation, said that even if the tobacco companies do not directly influence the schools to which they contribute, their financial ties have a "chilling effect" on further reform.

But Philip Morris officials said it leaves decisions about campus smoking to individual schools, and University of Richmond spokesman Brian Eckert said the company did not push officials to adopt a supportive stance.

"Ultimately what the university decided," he said, "was that tobacco was a legal product and that it was ultimately a decision for society rather than for the university."