Allow me to preface this article with the clarification that I am not nor have I ever been a consistent smoker of tobacco. As a white male who went to public school in New York, I would be remiss if I claimed to have never tried various tobacco products, but I have never become dependent on tobacco or included it in my daily routine. I fully understand the health risks of smoking tobacco and support the continued efforts of anti-tobacco groups in their quests to put big tobacco out of business.
I do, however, believe there is a limit that society can do in its attempts to quell tobacco consumption. I encourage increasing taxes on tobacco products, especially cigarettes, to deter people from picking up the nasty habit in favor of their wallets. I encourage awareness campaigns and the education of children and preteens on the facts when it comes to smoking cigarettes. I encourage private businesses to decide to no longer stock their shelves with tobacco products as CVS Health (formerly known as just CVS) has said it will do by next month. Do I support unilateral bans on tobacco at any level of government; federal, statewide, or local? No.
University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. announced recently that he is in the extremely preliminary stages of banning tobacco products from all Stony Brook properties. Currently, the only location that is completely smoke-free is East Campus. From a medical perspective, banning tobacco makes sense.This is the stance that Stanley, a former biomedical researcher with a focus on infectious diseases, is taking. He was quoted in a recent article in The Statesman by Chelsea Katz as saying, “As a physician… its an issue.” What Stanley, and everyone who works at or attends Stony Brook needs to understand is that this is not the case of a doctor prescribing a patient a plan for a healthier life. This is a bureaucracy trying to make decisions that it should not be granted the ability to make.
Tobacco, generally, is not a mind-altering substance. You will not crash your car or jump off a building or start a fight because you smoked a cigarette (well, at least not directly). It is simply unhealthy for you. If society, specifically some governmental body, wants to start outlawing things simply because they are “unhealthy,” they are going to have their work cut out for them, starting with fast food, television and cell phone usage.
The buzzword is “nanny-state,” but making things illegal because they are unhealthy for a person to consume (i.e. large sodas or trans fats that were banned from New York City by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg during the last few years of his tenure) would be setting a serious and worrisome precedent. Giving governmental institutions the ability to determine what is good for you and what is not is devaluing a person’s free will and ability to make decisions for themselves. People need to be able to weigh the consequences and results of their choices and not have the decision be made for them. If they choose the unhealthy route, then so be it. Have you ever decided to have fried food instead of avoiding it or finding an alternative? You should be able to retain the ability to make that decision for yourself because if that ability is conceded, the responsibility bestowed on those in power can very easily be abused. These are not aspects of the debate that should be taken lightly.
The argument can, and has been made that smokable tobacco products harm others than just the user through second hand smoke. Stanley also took this stance, saying that smoking is “to be engaged in a behavior that can disturb other people.” This is a valid claim, but if rules are strictly adhered to, such as Stony Brook’s seemingly campus-wide ban on smoking within 25 feet of any building, then second hand smoke is easily avoidable and practically a non-issue. Smokers have already been exiled out of and away from buildings; it should not be too difficult to steer clear if you insist upon doing so.
Smoking, to many who do so, is just as big of a part of their routine as eating is. It is something they do consistently and frequently. Those who smoke will not stop because there is a ban on campus.They will either continue to do so in spite of the ban, creating conflict with whoever is charged with enforcing the mandate, or they will end up leaving campus to smoke, something that Stanley should not be encouraging.
Banning tobacco from campus is something that should be discouraged, not in defense of tobacco, but on the principle that some decisions should be reserved for the individual. Restricting its usage near residential and high traffic areas is understandable and reasonable, but the outright ban of smoking would be a violation of a person’s basic rights. It is important that all sides of this debate keep in mind that smoking in adults has continuously decreased since the 1960s and that smoking in youths has been halved in the last twenty years. The number of smokers will always increase as each generation goes through college; the combination of stress and newfound freedom are major contributors to this unfortunate fact. However, it is important to note that, according to the CDC, only 9.1 percent of adults with an undergraduate degree smoke cigarettes compared to 18.1 percent of all adults. Smoking, on the whole, is dying out.
This is not the first time there have been efforts to ban tobacco usage on campus. If it fails again, it will not be the last. Please do not make unnecessary and potentially dangerous sacrifices in order to kill something that is already dying.