Last week, The Oberlin Review published an article titled “Campus Divided over Tobacco Ban” (Nov. 1, 2013). As a member of the team working to implement a tobacco-free campus, I would like to take the opportunity to both make a few factual corrections regarding specifics of the plan and also outline an argument for why Oberlin should go tobacco-free.
First, if the proposal for Oberlin to become tobacco-free were to be adopted, it would not be implemented until the summer of 2016. This is intended to allow the vast majority of current students to graduate, give prospective students the opportunity to become aware of and adjust to the change and provide enough time for smoking cessation products and services to become available at either a free or subsidized cost to everybody on campus who desires them.
Second, we (a subcommittee of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Committee convened by the Office of Student Wellness) are now actively identifying how every affected group on and off campus, including students, faculty, campus employees and community members, would be impacted by the change. We are working hard to make cessation kits more accessible and widely available, so that anybody who wants to quit smoking has the resources to do so. Furthermore, Oberlin wouldn’t be forcing anybody to quit; rather, they just wouldn’t be able to smoke on campus.
Third, though I am actively promoting and working on the policy while simultaneously serving as the liaison of Student Senate, the Senate itself has not made an official decision regarding whether or not to support the proposal. We will be voting this spring on a resolution that will clearly demonstrate our stance on the issue.
All of that being said, there are several arguments for why Oberlin should become a tobacco-free campus. The one that has resonated with most people thus far relates to both public and private health concerns. One only needsto consider the extent to which secondhand smoke affects life at Oberlin to understand the scope of the problem. In 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General declared that there is no safe level of exposure to sec- ondhand smoke, which is a Class A carcinogen. For the two-thirds proportion of campus that does not smoke — including staff and students with chronic health problems such as asthma, chronic ob- structive pulmomary disorder and allergies — it’s indisputable that the effects of smoking still play an integral role in their campus experience at Oberlin by means of secondhand smoke.
If we’re concerned about secondhand smoke, why not just create designated smoking zones? Unfortunately, social dynamics at Oberlin make smoking just as much of a way to meet and connect with people as it is a way to alleviate stress and cater to an addiction. Setting aside specific zones where people could smoke would not address, and would in fact possibly worsen, this problem. The partial approach is not considered effective by public health officials because it sends mixed messages and is hard to ever move forward from. I think that we have an ob- ligation to protect everybody’s right to a healthy living, learning and working environment, and committing to a tobacco-free cam- pus would be a firm step in that direction.
Going tobacco-free would also reaffirm Oberlin’s commitment to social justice. Between the years of 1965 and 1999, when a majority of the academic literature regarding the health implications of smoking began to emerge, individuals in the top quintile of wealth experienced a 62 percent reduction on smoking rates. By contrast, those in the bottom quintile only saw a 9 percent reduction. There are a variety of statistics available that clearly demonstrate a correlation between income levels and rates of smoking. However, intention or desire to quit smoking remains fairly constant across all levels, with a study by the Center for Disease Control showing that 70 percent of smokers desire to quit. I believe that Oberlin, both as a community and an institution, has a responsibility to ensure that everybody who wants to quit smoking isn’t prevented from doing so because of lack of access to a sup- portive, healthy environment and resources such as nicotine gum or patches.
As news about the policy has emerged, I’ve been extremely encouraged by both the amount and intensity of support that has emerged for the proposal. History has shown us that every so often, our community is faced with an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to being at the forefront of social change. We’re faced with that kind of choice today, and I’m inspired by the courage that a number of Oberlin students, faculty and community members have shown in stepping up to support a healthy, socially and environmentally conscious and compassionate campus.
If you’d like to share any comments or questions with the tobacco committee, please send an email to [email protected] I also encourage anybody who is interested in discussing this issue to attend a Senate Plenary Session (every Sunday at 7 p.m. in Wilder 215). We hope to see you there!