Forum

Proposed campus smoking ban put to referendum

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

If you haven’t already heard, the administration will be considering a proposal to ban all smoking on campus by 2010. That means you, the student body, should be considering it, too. Student Senate will hold a referendum on February 5 and 6 to get your mandate, and your Senators will push hard for whatever you choose, pro or con.

Here are the highlights from the Healthy Campus 2010 Task Force proposal: No smoking anywhere on campus by 2010; no smoking in fraternities; fines and citations for violations; Entropy would no longer sell cigarettes as of August 2007; no giving away free tobacco on campus. The proposal would also create more programs to make students aware of the risk of smoking as well as programs to help them quit. Just to clarify, yes: Hookas, pipes, cigars, and chewing tobacco would all be prohibited.

So the question is whether to ban or not to ban. To discuss this, I’ll repeat the strongest arguments I’ve heard from students so far.

The arguments for a ban that I hear most from students are arguments for general campus health and individual rights. While there have not been any university surveys on students’ smoking habits, there seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence that more students start smoking than quit smoking when they come to college. The hope is that if cigarettes aren’t for sale on campus, and if you can’t smoke on campus, maybe people will finally quit smoking or simply never start. These results are also expected to compound. Most people start smoking because their friends do, so any increase or decrease in smokers is expected to have a ripple effect on social circles.

With regard to fraternities’ objections to the smoking ban, the ban’s supporters point out that not everyone who lives in and visits a fraternity can safely inhale smoke, like asthmatics and people with sensitive allergies. Health complaints from students with breathing problems are the reason that Housing no longer offers smoking rooms in dormitories. Since Housing owns the on-campus fraternity houses, why should they be treated differently?

On the other hand, I’ve heard many students argue vehemently against a ban. They argue that a full ban goes much too far because it steps on the toes of those who want to exercise a legal right to do what they please as long as it doesn’t harm others. The Healthy Campus Task Force’s position is that any smoking does harm others. The Task Force’s proposal cites the surgeon general’s report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Smoking: “There is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure; even brief exposure can adversely affect the cardiovascular and respiratory system.”

When I checked the surgeon general’s report, the only definition for “brief exposure” that I could find was the following: “The immediate effects in some measures of blood and vascular functioning among nonsmokers from even brief exposures (i.e., 30 minutes or less) to secondhand smoke are comparable in magnitude to the effects observed in active smokers.”

The “Six Major Conclusions of the Surgeon General’s Report” contains five claims that there is no level of risk-free exposure to secondhand smoke, citing, “Short exposures to secondhand smoke can cause blood platelets to become stickier, damage the lining of blood vessels, decrease coronary flow velocity reserves, and reduce heart rate variability, potentially increasing the risk of a heart attack.” No definition of “short” is given, and the report admits that sidestream smoke “is rapidly diluted as it travels away from the burning cigarette.”

Walking through a crowd of even several smokers on your way into a building for 10 seconds is nowhere near the exposure this report describes. It lasts nowhere near 30 minutes, and the smoke itself is likely to be very diluted by the time it reaches others, especially if smokers stand 20 feet from entrances of campus buildings.

Here you have a strong counterargument against a total outdoor ban. The basic principle of liberty is that my rights end where yours begin. I can do whatever I want as long as it doesn’t infringe on your ability to do whatever you want. If there is no real harm to others in smoking outside, then it is not justifiable to ban it.

Here is the sticking point — ardent supporters of a ban would say that their right to not inhale cigarette smoke trumps the right to smoke wherever one pleases, even if outside. So the argument boils down to this: Is it better to uphold the rights of smokers to smoke, or non-smokers to be free from smoke?

The whole debate also raises questions about what role the university should play in enforcing healthy behavior. If rules are passed under the justification that they’re good for us, then why not eliminate all unhealthy food from campus? Isn’t it my choice to be unhealthy?

In my opinion, the proposal is great until the point at which it attempts to ban smoking outdoors. Requiring smokers to stand 20 feet from building entrances with risk of fine is, well, fine. And adding more resources in the health center for students who choose to quit is a great idea regardless of the outcome of the proposal.

That said, I am also a Student Senator. So in two weeks, I will cast my vote as an individual, but if the totals come in and a majority has decided the opposite of my opinion, I will do what I can to make that opinion known to the powers that be.

Please remember to vote in the referendum on February 5 and 6 at http://elections.andrew.cmu.edu/.