Tobacco-Free Campus Infringes on Freedoms

Aaron Pressman, Contributing Writer

With controversy on the rise regarding the Student Senate bill that would ban tobacco on campus, I would like to respond to Machmud Makhmudov’s commentary piece titled (“Tobacco-Free Policy Would Reaffirm Campus Values,” The Oberlin Review, Nov. 8, 2013).

Makhmudov argues that the Surgeon General’s declaration that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke supports the move toward a tobacco-free campus. Although I concede that secondhand smoke is a health problem, this is not a reason to ban smoking entirely. There are plenty of other chemicals for which there is no safe level to inhale, such as exhaust from cars, but there is no movement on campus suggesting a campus-wide ban of motor vehicles.

The current ban on smoking inside and in the immediate vicinity of buildings does plenty to protect those who do not wish to be around smoke for extended periods of time. With the large amount of outdoor space on the Oberlin campus, those wanting to stay away from the smoke experience little to no hassle.

Makhmudov’s second argument is that smoking zones would not be a viable alternative because “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.” I could not agree more with Makhmudov that smoking can be a social activity, but I do not see how this is in any way relevant to smoking zones. Just as smoking functions socially now, friends could still hold conversations in smoking zones. The only difference would be that smokers could continue smoking on campus, while those wishing to stay away from cigarette smoke would not be inconvenienced at all. I am not suggesting that we should create smoking zones; however, they certainly would be a better alternative to a complete campus-wide ban, as they would solve most of the public health issue while still allowing smokers a convenient place to smoke.

The third point Makhmudov makes is that “going tobacco-free would … reaffirm Oberlin’s commitment to social justice.” This is an extremely weak argument and has absolutely no relevance to the issue at hand. The author’s mention of some unnamed studies that show that individuals with lower incomes have been less successful quitting smoking than individuals with higher income levels has nothing to do with a campus-wide smoking ban. Even if I were to assume Makhmudov’s unnamed study is correct, the fact that there is a correlation between lower income and difficulty controlling smoking says nothing about causation.

No matter; this social justice argument is completely irrelevant, as the primary purpose of this bill is not to assist people in quitting smoking. This is a bill designed primarily to decrease smoking rates on the Oberlin College campus (which basically means getting smokers to step off campus before lighting up). Although I am in full support of any provision of this bill that would increase the resources available to those who wish to quit smoking, banning smoking on campus really has nothing to do with helping people quit.

There are many other issues with this bill that Makhmudov appears to be overlooking. Banning smoking from campus will not make Oberlin a smoke-free campus. If anything, it will increase the amount of smoking done indoors, which is a much more severe health and safety problem than outdoor smoking. Students will know that they will be written up if caught smoking, so they will do everything in their power to minimize the chances of being caught.

Additionally, the campus-wide smoking ban would have a negative impact on the town of Oberlin. Students would have to leave campus every time they want to permissibly light up a cigarette, and public spaces in the immediate vicinity of campus would face a significant increase in smoking rates, making shopping or going to restaurants near campus a miserable experience for those wishing to avoid cigarette smoke. This could hurt local businesses, or at least inconvenience both locals and Oberlin students when they are shopping or dining in town.

The school should treat its students as adults and not infringe on their liberties. Although I would not dispute that the school has the legal authority to institute such a ban, it is not the job of a college institution to tell its students how they should or should not live their lives. Just like alcohol usage for those over the age of 21 is a personal decision, tobacco usage for those over the age of 18 should be treated as a personal choice. Even though this bill would not force anyone to quit smoking, the school’s campus is home to most of the students and it is not reasonable to expect students to leave campus every time they want to light up a cigarette.