The ‘Smoke-Free Campus’ Revisited

By YOUSUF ALI, Opinions Editor

Last year, I wrote an article in The Michigan Journal explaining the University’s policy of a smoke-free campus and how it was so openly flouted at the expense of non-smoking students and faculty. One year later, sadly, nothing has changed. People still openly violate the University’s smoke-free policy, often times in proximity to the signs prohibiting such behavior. After several years, it’s clear that the University has no intention of actually enforcing its loftily-named policy. Since smoking is indeed an issue of serious concern for both smokers and non-smokers, the University shouldn’t just give up on the goal of decreasing smoking, but should go about it in a different way.

When a person smokes in the privacy of their own vehicle or in another isolated area, that is beyond the scope of the University policy, however when smoking is done openly in proximity to non-smokers on campus grounds, there are grounds for action. Contrary to the rhetoric of smoking-apologists, smoking in public is not a simple issue of personal freedom. By smoking in public spaces, smokers are essentially forcing non-smokers to expose themselves to their deleterious addiction. This is especially the case for people with asthma and other breathing problems according to the Asthma Institute of Michigan. Any suggestions that such people should simply “deal with” this unnecessary risk to their health to protect the “right” of others to give themselves lung cancer or emphysema is absurd. In light of this, the University should consider measures to actually reduce smoking on their campuses.

Perhaps, focusing less on the label of a “smoke-free campus” and more on substantive waves to curve the dangerous habit would bring the University closer to actually being smoke-free. Rather than setting the lofty but unrealistic goal of making the university campuses completely smoke-free, one alternative would be to restrict smoking to a few relatively out-of-the way places on campus and enforce the policy in areas where students and staff members congregate. It would be up to the each of the three campuses (Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint) to determine where such zones would be. This would allow smokers to satiate their addiction without spreading around the countless carcinogens to non-smoking students and faculty; however, there would be strict enforcement of the policies outside such zones. Fines would be sufficient penalty for violators. In addition to enforcing smoking restrictions on campus, the best way to curb the habit would be to encourage smoking students and faculty to quit the dangerous activity altogether.

Even though smoking endangers non-smokers through secondhand smoke, the people most harmed by smoking are the smokers themselves, and any university policy should include measures to help them. One way to do this would be to offer people in violation of the policy the option to have penalties waived if they take advantage of the plentiful resources already offered by the University encouraging smokers to quit. This utilizes the same principle as allowing people with points on their driver’s licenses the opportunity to remove them by taking remedial courses in practices of basic road safety. If they successfully overcome their addiction, the University could even offer rewards. Such a method could help to protect the non-smokers while at the same time assisting the smokers in eliminating their dangerous addiction.

Without a doubt, the goal of attaining a “smoke-free campus” at the University of Michigan is indeed admirable; however, it requires concrete action as opposed to mere labels. If the University is not interested in enforcing a complete ban, the next best thing would be to enforce serious restrictions on smoking. Furthermore, the policy should also incentivize its violators to quit smoking completely. This is because any anti-smoking policy should also have the best interest of the smokers in mind as well as those of non-smokers. This could be done through the waiving of fines for violations of the policy for smokers who use resources to quit as well as rewards for those who successfully do so. By taking constructive measures to reduce or eliminate smoking from its grounds the University would set a great example for other public institutions on how to fight this deadly practice.
PS: For any tobacco industry apologists who may be tempted to comment, I highly suggest that you save what’s left of the breath in your tar-coated lungs. I certainly shall not waste any of my limited time engaging with anyone who, in any way, trivializes the dangers of smoking for either smokers or non-smokers. I suggest that you do the same.