(MJ file photo)
(Ricky Lindsay/MJ)
A sign reading “smoking prohibited” is outside the CASL building. (Ricky Lindsay/MJ)

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.

  • To answer one of the questions raised near the beginning of this piece, the reason it’s important to have the label “smoke free campus” even if it’s filled with smoke, is that it’s an important piece in the larger social engineering program of actually forcing all campuses to ban smoking with the bans enforced by the states. If you’d followed the history of the movement to ban students from smoking on their campuses over the past ten years you’d have seen the steady, broadcast tally of “Over 300 (then 500, then 750, then 1,000…) Smoke Free Campuses!” with the implication, or even statements pointing more directly to the misdirection, that ALL the nation’s campuses were become “Smoke Free” as just the normal standard of higher institutions of academia. And, again usually just implied but sometimes stated, the exhortation to campuses to “Stay with the times! Don’t be left behind! Don’t be the last one!” and the “stick” sometimes pulled out as a threat of “Parents will notice if your campus encourages addiction among its students and send their children elsewhere!”

    Meanwhile of course there’s never a mention that there are roughly 5,000 such learning campuses around the country and that the numbers in no sense represent the implied majority or near-universality.

    Well, you might say, it’s worth it if its saving thousands or millions of students from being poisoned and dying from secondhand smoke… but is it? What happens even if you accept the Antismokers’ own Bible of figures, the US EPA Report, and apply it to those campuses that are “forcing their students to still choke in a fog of smoke at every doorway”?

    If you actually take the EPA Report figures, extract the clearest one that was touted so widely in bringing about the workplace smoking bans of the ’90s and ’00s, the dreaded “19% increase in lung cancer”… extract that figure and apply it to the campuses. Do we actually see a prediction of thousands or millions of students choking their lives out with lung cancer clogging the halls of student health?

    No. After applying very reasonable and straightforward corrections for intensities and durations of exposure, and even using the assumption that every student is forced to walk through, not just one, but TEN “Clouds Of Smokers” at campus doorways every day of the year, we find that there’s just ONE extra case of cancer induced for EVERY TWENTY-FIVE MILLION STUDENT-YEARS of such exposure! If we assume only two such exposures in an average day, and limit the days just to school days, the numbers fall to a single extra case of cancer for every one-hundred-and-seventy-million student-years of exposure. Deduct those students who are actually doing the smoking, and we see 1 per roughly every 200,000,000 student-years.

    I’ve heard of perpetual grad students, but that’s getting kind of ridiculous, don’t you think? Particularly once you see the numbers shrink even more by deducting the student smokers themselves and the numbers who would die of other things in their lives before the 25 or 50 years of lag time went by and such cancers might actually occur to those students as they headed into their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond.

    Meanwhile… on those campuses that actually *DO* try to enforce their bans by forcing students off campus alone, even into the worst of neighborhoods late at night, how many of those students wind up being raped or killed “for their own good” as they’re “encouraged” not to smoke by the bans? At the University of Montana, Chief of Campus Security Gary Taylor said he doesn’t think the Griz Personal Safety staff should be used to escort smokers. “The whole intent of the ban is to get people to stop smoking,”

    I guess if the students are stabbed to death, they’ll be counted as successful quitters by the campaign, eh?

    – MJM

  • Ban the Ban Michigan

    The author seems a little too desperate to convince students–which by all accounts seem quite tolerant of each other–to become much less so. Before making such serious allegations against such a large (and increasingly organized) group, the author should re-check what he believes are the “facts.”

    The CDC’s assertion that there is “no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke” is a political stance, not a scientific one. Such a belief requires its believers to ignore one of the fundamental rules of toxicology: that the dose makes the poison. Aspirin may be lethal if taken in excess, but does that mean one aspirin is “unsafe?” Only if you believe there can be “no risk-free level” of a substance.

    The CDC’s (as well as the Surgeon General’s) assertion that there’s “no risk-free” level of different chemicals found in SHS creates awkward problems. For example, there is “no safe level” of benzene, a component found in secondhand smoke. It’s also found in fruits, fish, vegetables, nuts, dairy products, and eggs.

    There is supposedly also “no safe level” of formaldehyde, also found in SHS. And, due to ordinary biological processes, it’s also present in every human being’s breath. Yes, Yousef, that means you’re breathing hazardous chemicals onto people as they pass by. But NOT at risky levels–UNLESS you believe “there’s no risk-free level.”

    Should we go on? There’s “no safe level of exposure to arsenic”–another “official” statement probably made because it’s in SHS–and yet it’s also found in apples and apple juice. Recently, the FDA added limits to the amount of arsenic that apple juice is allowed to contain. This means that, if the rules are followed, apple juice will now contain an “officially safe” amount of arsenic–an amount that could never cause an ordinary human being injury. Considering apple juice contains a lot more arsenic than SHS, we now have an awkward conflict in which government agencies say more arsenic is safer than almost no arsenic.

    In fact, a full-time server working in a restaurant that allows smoking would need to work there for over a hundred years to be exposed to enough arsenic to equal the size of one grain of salt. And that’s only assuming none of the arsenic the server was exposed to in those 100+ years ever broke down (many chemicals released into the air from burning substances break down rather quickly).

    Furthermore, a restaurant patron drinking a 16 ounce glass of water in the smoking section would have to be sitting next to someone who was simultaneously smoking 165,000 cigarettes to be exposed to the same amount of arsenic ordinarily found in their average glass of drinking water. Just by taking a hot, steamy shower, a person inhales more “no risk-free levels” of arsenic than they ever could from SHS.

    You can actually compare each of the “bad” ingredients in SHS and make the same conclusions: in real-world situations, the ingredients simply can never be concentrated enough to be a real hazard. Smoking is, of course, a health risk, because when people smoke, they’re breathing in concentrated blasts of it. Secondhand smoke, on the other hand, is diluted with massive quantities of air. It’s 90% air, according to the Surgeon General.

    OSHA has established permissible exposure levels for practically every chemical; levels at which they are NOT hazardous. Take a look at those found in SHS. To approach hazardous levels, you’d have to be trapped in an airtight chamber with:

    290,000 smokers for 2-Toluidine
    14,285 smokers for Acetaldehyde
    1,666 smokers for Acetic acid
    118,700 smokers for Acetone
    1,290 smokers for Benzene
    222,000 smokers for Benzo[a]Pyrene
    1,430 smokers for Cadmium
    15,700 smokers for Catechol
    25,555 smokers for Dimethylamine
    1,790 smokers for Formic acid
    14,444 smokers for Hydrazine
    1,250 smokers for Hydroquinone
    13,000 smokers for Methylamine
    11,170 smokers for Methylchloride
    40,000 smokers for Nickel
    7,600 smokers for Phenol
    750,000 smokers for Polonium
    4,100 smokers for Pyridine
    1,000,000 smokers for Toluene

    In short, unless the author is planning to invite hundreds of thousands of smokers over to his airtight phone booth later, he shouldn’t worry so much. But he should do a little more digging next time, before attempting to turn the student body against itself. Perhaps the reason other students seem so tolerant of one another is that they’ve already done the research.

    • Yousuf Ali

      You make a lot of assertions and claims in your comment. Let’s start with that very long list of “permissible exposure levels”.

      Would you be so kind to me, as well to fellow readers, to directly link to the OHSA’s numbers?

      • ScottEwing

        It’s called ‘Google’ idiot.

        • Yousuf Ali

          I must say it is a sign that I am doing something right when there are several pro-tobacco trolls commenting on my article and even personally attacking me. Thanks for the encouragement.

          • ScottEwing

            Your feeble attempt to justify your bigotry has been duly noted. Go polish your jack boots.

          • Actually, it would be a sign you were “doing something right” if your posting was tight and well-referenced enough that you could offer it up openly and INVITES “specific, substantive criticisms” — and none of what you call “pro-tobacco trolls” even tried to answer.

            I’ve made exactly that sort of offer well over a hundred times (You can google the phrase “specific, substantive criticisms” for a selection if you like) with virtually no takers.

            Would you like to give it a try? Or not?

            – MJM

          • While awaiting Mod approval for the link, if you’d like to try your hand at my “Challenge” simply Google “V.Gen5H” in quotes just like that and you’ll find the pdf booklet “The Lies Behind The Smoking Bans.” Please DO feel free to offer those criticisms Yousuf: I promise I won’t mind, and I’ll try to stop back to respond.

            – MJM

  • ScottEwing

    While we’re at it, lets ban drinking….. Oh wait, tried that.

  • Yousuf Ali

    To any readers. You can look up the judgement in “United States (and Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund) v. Philip Morris, 556 F.3d 1095 (D.C. Cir. 2009)”

    Amongst the findings in the judgement are that Tobacco Companies conspired to “1) mislead the public about the risks of smoking, (2) mislead the public about the danger of secondhand smoke; (3)”

    That judgement and corroborated is far better researched than any of the sophistry in the comments section. Keep in mind it is just one of SEVERAL such judgements against tobacco companies. My advice is not to believe the ridiculous conspiracy theories and pseudo-science that is expounded below and read what has been written by mainstream scientific authorities and confirmed by the courts on NUMEROUS OCCASIONS.

    • “That’s all I have to say about this matter.” LOL! Did you pick up that quote specifically from some of your antismoking fellows in the links to that booklet I referred you to? I have a term for that response to my request actually.

      Yousuf, you’ve run away from my simple request faster than a little girl from a pack of tarantulas.

      Of course you probably never even TRIED to read the document I pointed you to beyond an uncomfortable glance at the first few of its 22 large-print, easy-reading pages.

      Heh, of course it’s also quite likely you’ve never actually read the 1,652 SMALL print pages of the court case you referred to. Note that a court finding is quite different, and less valuable, than a scientific finding because all sorts of “shadings” are allowed to pass unchallenged when seen as side issues by the lawyers or because a judge might happen to fundamentally feel that one side has more “goodness” or “value” on its side than the other. Judges are fallible human beings just like anyone, and there’s a good reason why the term “opinion” is so often used in legal matters.

      You might want to read through the court’s section on secondhand smoke though and keep an eye out for phrasings like this: “this is *PROBABLY* *AT LEAST* *PARTLY* due to…” (Emphases added) or statements that simply lump smoking and secondhand smoke together as one unit.

      Meanwhile… do try to get treatment for your fear of tarantulas. You might actually be able to mount a better argument then. My offer is still open you realize.

      – MJM

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