Smoking Ban an Issue of Personal Liberty

Aaron Pressman, Contributing Writer

I would like to write another response in the continuing dialogue between Machmud Makhmudov and myself regarding the Oberlin campus smoking ban. The most recent article published was “Smoking Crisis Demands Tobacco Ban, Social Justice,” The Oberlin Review, Nov. 22, 2013. I would like to thank Makhmudov for responding to my article and take the time to address his arguments.

In this column, Makhmudov does not address the issue of secondhand smoke, but rather focuses on the health of smokers themselves and his claim that this is a social justice issue. “I would kindly request that the author also consider how a pervasive smoking culture — whether relegated to designated smoking zones or not — affects those attempting to quit,” he writes.

I interpret this to mean that he has conceded my argument that this ban is not the best solution to prevent secondhand smoke. Regardless, even if he has not fully conceded, only students would face fines for smoking, so secondhand smoke from faculty and staff, visitors, and community members would still be present. This issue is very clearly not about protecting the health or desires of nonsmokers. This issue is about whether or not the administration should act as our babysitter.

I do not feel that a college administration has such a role. Students over the age of 18 are legally permitted to use tobacco products. Seeing as the ban only disciplines students, this is a dangerous precedent, that would allow the college to discriminate on the basis of student status. While an 18-year-old community member will face no punishment for smoking on the Oberlin campus, a student of the same age will.

Additionally, in the state of Ohio, the government has decided that 18-year-olds have the right to make their own decisions when it comes to putting tobacco products in their bodies. As long as students act within the bounds of the law, it is not the administration’s responsibility to tell us what is bad for us.

Personally, I choose not to smoke and I would recommend that everyone else do the same. However, this is my personal decision and I believe that everyone else should be allowed to make his or her own choices. There are plenty of other harmful substances that Oberlin students put in their bodies, such as fast food and alcohol. However, the administration is not proposing a ban on fast food or a ban on alcohol for those over the age of 21. Why treat tobacco differently?

Makhmudov also makes a social justice argument, claiming that we should ban cigarettes because there is a positive correlation between income level and quitting rates. First of all, the studies he cites by the Center of Disease Control are not representative of the Oberlin campus. Oberlin is made up of a significantly higher percentage of high-income students than the country as a whole and offers equal resources to all students, regardless of income, so income inequality is not an issue in the smoking band.

Additionally, this ban is not even designed to help people quit smoking. Once people are addicted, it can be very difficult to quit. Simply telling students that they are not allowed to continue smoking will not help them. As I stated in my previous article, this ban will just lead to smokers finding alternative places to smoke.

Makhmudov even goes as far as to claim that by allowing smoking on campus, people are “denied the opportunity to live a healthy life due to financial circumstances. Basically, he is arguing that we should ban cigarettes because richer people can quit more easily than poorer people. At best, this argument is flawed for all my aforementioned reasons. At worst, he is furthering the problem. If his claim is true, that means that once the ban is implemented, wealthier students will have an easier time quitting, and the less wealthy will be left unable to break their addictions. This will leave students of lower incomes forced to either break the rules or walk off campus every time they desire to light up. For Makhmudov’s own sake and for the sake of social justice, I most certainly hope his argument is simply flawed.

The author continues on to discuss the principles on which Oberlin was founded. I could not agree more with you, Mr. Makhmudov, that we should adhere to the principles on which this institution stands. Why would we allow a school that claims to promote tolerance and independence make a rule that so blatantly restricts the liberties and personal decisions of its students?

Makhmudov concludes by asking, “Will you remain silent, or will you take a stand?” I certainly know my answer — I am taking a stand, but not for oppression or for the school administration to be my babysitter. I am taking a stand for liberty and for the freedom of adults to make their own choices regarding their bodies. I encourage you all to do the same.