Considerations in the Smoking Ban Discussion

Jade Schiff, Department of Politics

To the Editor:

Though I smoke, I do not condone smoking. Its lethality is an established fact. The tobacco industry works hard to promote smoking in spite of that fact. That is reprehensible. Nevertheless, I find that Allison O’Donnell’s and some others’ arguments for a campus ban troubling and unpersuasive.

First, not every issue that disproportionately affects vulnerable groups is an issue of social justice. No one on campus has argued persuasively that smoking is such an issue because they have not answered the basic question: What is unjust about the tobacco industry’s promotion of it, and what is the responsibility of the College to address that injustice?

Social justice claims are powerful rallying cries, and to make them indiscriminately undermines the promotion of social justice. If we want to be leaders in this area, we must lead responsibly.

Second, as far as I know, we have no systematic evidence that campus smoking bans actually work, and there is reason to believe that they might create other problems. In Canada, for instance, every time the government has raised taxes to curb smoking, smuggling has increased.

I have heard that the University of Michigan’s ban has been largely successful at eliminating smoking on campus. But just because we do not see it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, and it may be happening in dangerous ways. Smoking is not only a health hazard but a potential fire hazard. If the ban pushes smoking underground, one obvious place for it to go is into the dorms. Smoke detectors are frighteningly easy to disable.

Finally, there is an issue about the role of the College in the lives of students. There has been a lot of concern lately about “helicopter parenting,” the over-involvement of parents that shelters their children from the consequences of their actions.

A smoking ban sounds very much like “helicopter educating.” In the real world, students will have to make choices about whether to smoke or not. Why should they not have to make such choices here?

I fully endorse the harm-reduction element of the College’s approach: increasing access to resources for smoking cessation. We might also consider increasing the number of smoke-free zones without banning smoking altogether.

Harm reduction has proven very effective in combating the use of other dangerous substances, and it might work for smoking, too.

None of what I have said is an argument against a smoking ban. It is call, rather, to think through such a ban and its implications more systematically than we appear to be doing. After all, as an institution of higher education, this is what we are supposed to be promoting.