In Defense of the Smoking Ban
by Michelle Spoto | published Apr. 15th, 2014
I think if I hear the phrase “smokers’ rights” one more time, I might lose it. I just might. “Smokers’ rights” isn’t a thing. Smokers aren’t an underprivileged or oppressed group of individuals that need protecting. They’re people who choose to participate in a knowingly unhealthy habit. For members of the RIT community that suffer from asthma, allergies or a genetic predisposition to lung or blood cancers, the issue is much bigger. It’s for this reason that I wholly support a campus-wide ban of cigarette smoke.
Now, I’m not here to judge. Everyone has their vices— whether it’s drinking, gambling or casual sex—and it’d be more than a little hypocritical to argue for a smoking ban based on the idea that smokers are horribly immoral beings who need paternalistic guidance. It’s not about treating students like children (remember, the ban affects the entire campus community, faculty and staff alike) or about sheltering students from the “real world.” In fact, it may be making students more prepared for the workplace; some companies have implemented their own smoking bans. According to a 2011 New York Times article, some employers even refuse to hire smokers and mandate nicotine urine tests for all of their employees, citing the high healthcare costs of insuring smokers. These measures, although extreme, serve to show how attitudes about cigarettes are shifting. It would behoove RIT to keep up with the changing tide.
Many hospitals have adopted the idea of a campus-wide smoking ban, prohibiting cigarette smoking even in outdoor areas. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone to disagree with this policy; it’s well understood that sick and vulnerable patients shouldn’t be exposed to the dangers of secondhand smoke. However, people sensitive to cigarette smoke don’t just reside in hospitals; they teach our classes, keep our campus clean or sit next to us in chemistry class. Their health conditions may not be physically apparent, but they still suffer negative consequences due to another’s unhealthy habit. Moreover, cigarette smoke affects even healthy individuals. According to the Center for Disease Control, since 1964 more than 2.5 million non-smokers have died due to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, which contains more than 7,000 chemicals. That’s 2.5 million preventable deaths. In addition, secondhand smoke increases the rate of heart disease in healthy individuals by 20-30 percent. With RIT’s focus on healthy living — from Wellness Wednesday seminars to the new Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition — it seems incomprehensible that they should continue to allow secondhand smoke to harm individuals who choose to keep their lungs healthy and clear.
Some critics of the campus ban have suggested reforming RIT’s current smoking policy and creating designated smoking areas but I believe that this will prove to be ineffective. According to the transcript from the March 19 Smoking Policy Forum, Donna Rubin, assistant vice president for student wellness, spoke about her experience researching campuses that have implemented smoking areas. She said, “We spoke to [people from] other campuses who had done specific areas and they regretted it. They found it bled out from those areas.”
The only way to completely eliminate secondhand smoke is to completely eliminate smoking. I believe that a total ban will help create a culture where smoking anywhere on campus is frowned upon; a strict “right or wrong” is much clearer than the current lenient policy.
On May 7, the Institute Council will decide whether the RIT campus should become completely tobacco free. Use the next few months of voice your opinion. Talk to your SG representatives or reach out to Rubin or Mike Stojkovic, assistant director for wellness, who presented the proposed plan to SG.
Disagree? Read the opposting viewpoint by clicking here.