Campus smoking bans are drifting too far

Puritan approach causes more problems than it solves


xavi talleda/Flickr

Memorial University, it seems, is edging towards becoming the next Canadian university to ban smoking entirely on its campus.

It’s easy to see why such a ban would be tempting and why other universities have gone in that direction, as my fellow commentator Ravanne Lawday explains here. Smoking poses well-known health hazards to smokers and bystanders alike. Smokers typically leave behind cigarette butts, which sullies the campus. And most universities these days have day cares, so campus smokers set a bad example for the kids.

On the other hand, a total or near-total smoking ban seems likely to cause as many problems as it solves.

Some students might skip classes (or parts of classes) if they can’t fit in a quick puff between Sociology and Algebra. Others might attend classes but be distracted by their cravings. Test takers might be badly disadvantaged if they are fighting with withdrawal as well as chemical formulae.

Besides, if health is the issue, why not ban cars from campus, thus reducing pollution and forcing students to get more exercise? This back and forth, of course, could go on indefinitely. In fact, I give this very topic to composition students as an example of one where there are strong arguments on both sides.

But in the end, I’m opposed to draconian restrictions to campus smoking because, to my mind, they smack of a kind of moral puritanism that I find disconcerting. We all know that smoking is bad for you—smokers know it too. They smoke either because they are willing to trade some health risks for the pleasure of smoking, or because they can’t help themselves. If it’s the first reason, then others should mind their own business. If it’s the second, others should have some compassion and realize that everyone has imperfections and weaknesses of one kind or another.

Worst of all, smokers are being targeted because they are a small minority. Whatever restrictions one sees on drinking, they are nothing compared to the attacks on smoking, in large measure because most people drink. But when less than one-in-five smoke, smokers provide an easy target, a target sighted straight down the nose of those with an air of superiority.

Todd Pettigrew teaches English at Cape Breton University. Follow him: @ToddPettigrew


Campus smoking bans are drifting too far

  1. I fully support non smoking policies on campus. My school has designed smoking shelters that get minimal use by smokers who feel better smoking at building entrances and littering their cigarette butts all over the pavement. Why should the majority be required to navigate a smokey haze while dodging a maze of smokers trash just to gain entrance to a building that we have paid to attend.

    Smokers make a choice to smoke and as such they can follow whatever rules are put in place by the schools. Using the logic portrayed in the article, drinkers should be allowed to swill booze openly on school campuses as well.

    • ”Smoking poses well-known health hazards to smokers and bystanders alike. Smokers typically leave behind cigarette butts, which sullies the campus. And most universities these days have day cares, so campus smokers set a bad example for the kids.”

      Yes smoking poses well-known health hazards to those who smoke abusively. As for bystanders, when one considers that it takes 20 years, if ever, for heavy smokers to develop any multi-factorial disease only suspected to have been caused by smoking, what kind of fearful hypochondriac society have we become to be afraid of thousands of times diluted tobacco smoke outdoors? Does anyone truly expect to live thousands of years to be afraid that these whiffs of smoke will do them in before something else does?

      Litter is a problem, but it would become less of a problem if ashtrays scattered in strategical places became the norm again. If you were to take away or minimize trash disposals you would also see all kinds of other trash on the ground. Give people a little respect and they might just give some back. Denormalize them and they will act exactly as anyone living in the margins of society acts.

      Campus smokers set a bad example for the kids? Really? That should be the least of the kids’ problems. If setting a bad example for the kids was even in the radar of society’s worries, they would not have kicked smokers on the curb to smoke everywhere. They would have accommodated them with designated indoor settings to keep them ”hidden” from anyone, including kids, tempted to pick up the habit. No, their goal was to make a spectacle out of smokers huddled outdoors in all kinds of weather to indulge in their habit, now the spectacle doesn’t suit them anymore?

      Smoking bans, on campus or otherwise have absolutely nothing to do with anyone caring about our health. There are other reasons for this modern anti-smoking hysteria too long to get into here. You may want to click in this link and get an education. http://www.tctactics.org

    • If university administrations were really worried about safety on university campuses, they would do more to restrict drinking rather than focus on smoking. I know of more direct and indirect health issues related to drinking on university campuses — alcohol misuse/abuse, alcohol poisoning, risky hazing activities, assault — that are more problematic than the risks of smoking.

      • I think smoking should be banned on campus not because of the fact that it’s unhealthy to the smoker but to those around them that are forced to inhale the second hand smoke. That and the fact that many smokers refuse to respect no smoking entrance signs for asthmatics and the simple signs saying stand 10 meters away from the building while smoking.
        Drinking is bad for the person consuming the alcohol but not necessarily for the by-passers. No one has to inhale toxic fumes given of by drinkers consuming alcohol.

  2. Todd,
    At my campus, those who smoke are asked to smoke in Designated Smoking Areas (DSAs)and not to liter on campus, yet somehow both of those rules are broken. Additionally, we have a public health facility on campus and a student run Leave the Pack Behind program that both offer seminars, free patches, pills and gums for cravings, as well as counseling for those who smoke for stress relief purposes. A few years ago, we proposed becoming a smoke-free campus and were met with revolt and disgust, so we implemented these measures so that we could support our students instead of banishing them from the campus, yet they can not follow the simple rules we have laid out for them.
    In conclusion, I fully support those campuses that have gone smoke-free as it encourages students to live healthy lives and focus on their studies.
    Additionally, I think it’s fair to say that if a student chooses to skip a class or part of a class to smoke, it’s as much their choice and their right as the student that texts in class. Post-secondary students should understand that it’s their (or their parents) money that they are wasting by not attending classes and it is not the responsibility of the institution to condone their unhealthy behaviour in order for them to succeed.

    • Ashleigh,
      Why not ban the pop machines and get some real food inside our Colleges? Obesity is on the rise “Measured obesity has increased 2.5 times in the last decades” as per http://www.publichealth.gc.ca. We allow the students to eat in the hallways, classrooms etc. whats wrong with eating in the cafeteria? No respect for others. Students get drunk everyday at the campus pub this can’t be healthy?

      Does your campus having any of this?

      The only law that I’m aware of with smoking outside is you must be 9 meters from any door or opening window. Maybe your College needed a security team that would have enforced this law. Instead you choose to make your own law. Giving out a bunch of tickets was that to hard to do? People would have smoked away from the doors.

      The only thing I can agree on is the College having a health facility that offers students help if they want to quit smoking. It seems like the College wants a clean image and nothing more. What would your College do if all the overweight students started hanging out at the entrances?

      • I think your rant about obesity is a completely different subject because the way that a person chooses to eat does not effect the person sitting next to them. Additionally, we do not have a campus pub and our cafeteria has very healthy option including an ‘on-the-go’ section so that students have the option to bypass the snack machines in the hallway if they so chose; just as students who don’t want to walk through a cloud of smoke should be able to.

        Our campus security can’t be on every student who is directly outside of the doors ALL the time or else no one would have this problem.

        You question “What would your College do if all the overweight students started hanging out at the entrances?”, it’s completely irrelevant. You’re talking about categorizing people based on their physical appearance as compared to doing something that can put others in harms way.

        Before people get up in arms about me saying that smokers put people in ‘harms way’, for me, it certainly does. I have Primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD) and walking through a cloud of smoke to get through the doors to get inside get send me into a paralyzing coughing fit that could wind me up in the hospital.
        Is that fair?

  3. Todd, while I agree with your overall point, I have to disagree, VERY strongly, with this: “Smoking poses well-known health hazards to smokers and bystanders alike.”

    Todd, I’ll bet you think there are studies out there showing “health hazards” to people when people smoke outdoors. Guess what? There aren’t. Go look. Seriously. There are NO SUCH STUDIES. You’ll find studies showing trace measurements of tobacco smoke in the air, maybe even a few showing momentary levels that they can make sound impressive, but there are NO studies showing anything approaching the durations and intensities of exposure that have even begun to ring the bells of microscopic statistical significance in terms of any clinical health effects.

    In thinking about this I applied the famous antismoking EPA Report figures to the sorts of exposures students might get on a smokey campus. When the EPA numbers are adjusted for durations and dilution of smoke compared to the 40 hour/week indoor exposures of the 1950s through 70s studied, and the numbers are extended to a situation where a student had to walk through “clouds” of smoke at doorways TEN TIMES A DAY, EVERY DAY on campus, the EPA Report figures would predict that it would take 250 *million* student-years on the average to produce a single lung cancer.

    You’re an English teacher. Would you agree that using the word “hazard” to describe such a situation is a gross abuse of the meaning of the word?

    Michael J. McFadden,
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

  4. Give me a break! These smokers should suffer like I had to when I was growing up – parents smoking in my face, every place I went everyone smoking. Couldn’t get a breath of fresh air. Now I’m dying of lung cancer from second hand smoke. Thank you very much all you smokers. I feel soooo sorry for all of you because you can’t smoke on campus. Suck it up! Let’s see how you feel when you get cancer.

  5. It was a noble cause, although targeted toward a helpless minority based upon junk science. Both objectives did involve some burning, but we preferred the gaseous approach of our objectives. We will win this war eventually, but it would be more rewarding if all smokers were Jewish. Long live the cause !

  6. It does not bother me when someone drinks away from (or near me). But the cigarette smoke does. How can anyone with a little bit of brain still smoke?

  7. A college campus can be spread out over a large area. I remember going from one end of the campus to the other end for the next class. If I could not smoke along the way and had to go on a detour to a smoke area, I would probably be late for class. I would compare a college campus to the likes of a town. People smoke on sidewalks in a town; allow people to smoke on sidewalks at campus to ensure that they get to class on time. Stop picking on smokers! So many of you anti-smokers tend to go home and smoke marijuana and you seem to think that it is acceptable.

  8. It’s about time! For the first 2 years I was in university, students were allowed to smoke in class and, as a non-smoker, that put me a disadvantage. My, how things have changed. With all the info available about the affects of smoking and second-hand smoke, anyone who has taken up the habit within the past 20 years has to be really stupid and educating them is a waste of time and money.

  9. The ONLY reason smoking is tolerated in any public area is that tobacco is not yet a banned substance, as it should be. Second-hand smoke contains 60 known Class-A carcinogens. Second-hand smoke is a leading cause of the arterial and lung/bronchial diseases especially in older people, including hypertension, stroke, cardiac issues, and asthma.

    Smokers pollute the homes of anyone who has the misfortune of living in an attached dwelling. Smokers lie about their addiction when it suits them to do so.

    We should be waging war on tobacco the way we waged war against polio, and the way we still wage it against rats.

  10. Geeze all this drama about a real minority now smoking outside?? Try in the 70’s and 80’s when we could actually smoke IN the CLASSROOMS and the college provided ashtrays! That was blue haze!
    No I think banning it from inside is enough but there should be more outside ashtrays everywhere. There are lots of garbage and recycling cans but hardly an ashtray/receptacle.

    Alcohol on campus is a huge problem from underage drinking, assaults and rapes, kids drinking themselves to death, becoming alcoholic that will make their degree/diploma useless as their disease progresses….I would worry more about alcohol abuse and use than outside smoking!

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