ALJASSAR: A smoke-free Grounds

The University should ban smoking on Grounds

On October 2, the Managing Board published an editorial in which it asserted that universities should not ban smoking on their campuses. This piece was written in response to the smoking ban enacted at each of the 31 public colleges and universities belonging to the University System of Georgia.

I disagree, not because I hope a ban would make smoking a socially inconvenient behavior that would encourage smokers to quit. Rather, secondhand smoking is a problem for nonsmokers that can be diminished with a public smoking ban.

There are real risks associated with secondhand smoking even in small amounts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.” Consequences of inhaling secondhand smoke include increased risk of cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. The CDC estimates that nonsmokers who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent. Nonsmokers who inhale the carcinogens present in tobacco smoke are 20 to 30 percent more likely to develop lung cancer.

Health risks notwithstanding, many students find the smell of smoke obnoxious. It is hard to walk into Clemons without confronting the oppressive miasma of cigarette smoke that so often lurks outside the library’s doors. And you can’t descend the steps behind the East Range towards the Health System’s West Complex without being subjected to the cough-inducing fumes of students and employees who have colonized that area and made it a smoker’s alley. Public smoking is simply a nuisance.

The Managing Board maintains that offering health services is sufficient for colleges to promote student health. I’m skeptical. For the smoker, such resources can be useful for quitting or receiving health education. But there are no ways for the nonsmoker to enjoy a smoke-free environment, as there will always be smokers who don’t take advantage of health services at the University. The only solution for the nonsmoker is a public smoking ban.

The Managing Board presents public smoking as an issue of liberty. But that argument doesn’t stand because an individual’s personal liberties go out the window once he encroaches upon the rights of others. To quote former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., “the right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” A smoker’s right to smoke should end where a nonsmoker’s right to clean air begins.

The Managing Board writes that other pollutants such as vehicle exhaust also exist on college campuses and cannot realistically be banned. It is true that there is no way to entirely prevent student exposure to health hazards. But shouldn’t we try to mitigate the effects of air pollution instead of resigning ourselves to the fact that our air quality won’t be perfect? Unlike vehicle exhaust, secondhand smoke can realistically be removed from Grounds. Cars and buses are necessary for the University to operate; tobacco is not. One cannot draw a reasonable parallel between banning public smoking and banning vehicles.

Furthermore, the Managing Board writes of the inconvenience that a public smoking ban would impose upon smokers, particularly those who live on Grounds. And what about the inconvenience that the majority of students experiences when walking by smokers? The reality is that smokers are a minority on Grounds, and they aren’t a legally protected one. Banning public smoking at the University is a solution that inconveniences the smallest number of people without infringing upon the rights of a protected class of people.

The University should follow the lead of the University System of Georgia by introducing a public smoking ban. “The time to end smoking is now,” Student Council Safety and Wellness Co-Chair Rachel Murphy wrote in an email. “The longer we wait, the sooner we will see the harmful effects of smoking.”

Nazar Aljassar is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at n.aljassar@cavalierdaily.com.

related stories