Tobacco Control Has Become an Issue of Social Justice

Allison O’Donnell, Contributing Writer

Oberlin College has a long history of commitment to social justice and standing up for vulnerable populations. Oberlin College currently has the opportunity to stand up for what is right and send a message to one of the most destructive industries in the world. A tobacco-free college campus policy is an opportunity for Oberlin students, faculty and staff to send the message that making billions of dollars from a deadly and addictive product is not acceptable.

Tobacco control is a social justice issue. Strong tobacco control policies, including a tobacco-free campus, are in line with Oberlin’s long-held commitment to social justice, activism and standing up for what is right even when it is difficult. The tobacco industry manufactures a product that kills half of the people who use it as intended. The tobacco industry has known that their products kill people for the past 50 years and continues to produce them. In fact, the most recent surgeon general’s report finds that cigarettes today are more deadly than cigarettes 50 years ago because of the manipulation by the tobacco industry to make them as addictive, appealing and easy to consume as possible.

The tobacco industry spends $1 million an hour marketing their products, particularly targeting youth, minorities and other vulnerable populations, including people of color and the LGBT community. They do it in the US and all around the world, especially in low- and middle-income countries, where governments have the least amount of power to fight back and people can least afford the cost of buying tobacco products and paying for the expensive treatments of the various health consequences they bring.

The tobacco industry has done a great job of arguing that smoking is an individual choice that all adults have the right to make. Unfortunately, this idea is a fallacy.  Almost all smokers have their first cigarette and start smoking before they turn 18 and are particularly vulnerable to tobacco industry marketing and nicotine, which happens to be one of the most addictive drugs available, making it very, very difficult to quit once you have started.

Tobacco use remains the number one cause of preventable death in the US and across the globe, killing almost 500,000 people every year in the US — more than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined. It killed two of my uncles who started smoking in middle school, could never quit and died decades later, leaving their friends and families to mourn their loss. People die and the tobacco industry makes billions of dollars every year. This is not acceptable. A tobacco-free campus policy sends the message that none of this is allowed and that Oberlin students don’t support the tobacco industry.