By YOUSUF ALI, Staff Columnist
Hey, did you know that the University of Michigan-Dearborn is a smoke-free campus?! Not just in the buildings, but even in parking lots. At Ann Arbor and Flint too!
Of course, anyone who has bothered to step outside any one of the campuses knows just how meaningless this label is. People smoke regularly at this university, even in plain sight of the campus police. These facts raise the question as to why the university even calls itself a “smoke-free campus” in the first place.
To the university’s credit, smoking in buildings has been prohibited for almost 30 years. This has a fairly clear rationale in that it eliminates a fire hazard; however, the university extended the prohibition to all of the campus grounds in 2011. The idea was to change the way the behavior was perceived so that the campus would eventually become “smoke-free.” To the surprise of no one who has walked on any of the campus grounds, there was not a robust method of enforcement included in the ban. In other words, it is a policy that depends on self-enforcement. In doing so, the University of Michigan has put itself in the awkward position of maintaining a policy that takes a strong rhetorical stand against one of the most detrimental practices to health while allowing people to flout that policy without consequence.
For the university to refer to itself as “smoke-free” whilst not taking any action against those who violate the ban is misleading, to say the least. Perhaps smoking has decreased as a result of this policy, but even if there were only one person who smoked on anyone of the campuses without consequence, that would be sufficient to dismiss the label that it so proudly uses for itself. Obviously, smoking on campus is far more widespread than this, and we should renew our efforts to address this serious issue of public health.
There are some who say that the University ought not to restrict the rights of people to smoke on its ground since they believe it to be a matter of choice; however, this is incorrect for a number of reasons. The issue of smoking on campus is not a simple matter of the freedom of people to choose whether or not to smoke: it is a public health issue of the utmost importance.
The negative health effects of smoking on smokers are well-known and indisputable, but the issue certainly concerns non-smokers as well. Put simply, one need not be a smoker to be harmed by smoking. Even if one spends time around smokers, they will still inhale many of the same toxins as the smoker. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) goes as far to state that “there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.” Given such facts, it is simply wrong to conflate the issue of smoking with the right to use one’s cell phone or chew gum. Even non-smokers who simply pass by people smoking are putting their health at risk.
In the context of the university, students have to walk on the campus grounds in order to attend classes and events. To do so, they should not have to risk their health by exposing themselves to hundreds of harmful chemicals including arsenic, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen cyanide. By allowing people the choice to smoke on campus, the university would essentially be forcing the non-smokers in its community to risk their health in order to participate in campus life. As such, the university should demonstrate far more concern for the campus community by ensuring that its campuses are indeed “smoke-free.”
When the university first proposed becoming a “smoke-free campus,” it seemed like a good idea. After all, who could possibly object to the university ridding itself of one of the most serious public hazards ever?
However, four years on, the policy has failed to achieve what its label implies. The prohibition is openly flouted with non-smokers having to expose themselves to the dangers of carcinogens just to get to and from class. Perhaps, people reading about the university online, or even some parents, may think that we are indeed “smoke-free,” but students and faculty know better. Given such circumstances, the label of “smoke-free campus” only serves to mislead those who do not actually spend time on University of Michigan campuses into thinking the school is “smoke-free.” Needless to say, this is of no benefit to the students and faculty who have to spend time on the university campuses every day. By consequence, the university ought to seriously rethink this policy and its implementation.