Stony Brook University banned the use of tobacco products on campus at the start of 2016. Still, the sight of students sucking down smoke around Frank Melville’s old estate is far from uncommon.
What’s more, it doesn’t seem like anybody is enforcing this supposedly stringent tobacco ban. Ostensibly, being caught smoking by University Police is supposed to result in citations, warnings and even hearings for repeated offenders. But the same students keep lighting up in the same spots.
Honestly, that’s fantastic. Banning tobacco products at Stony Brook was a ridiculously pretentious proposition. The university is right to leave its smoking-prone population alone, and it should seriously consider relaxing the policy.
Let’s get this out of the way: smoking is a highly toxic habit. Routine tobacco use in any form can potentially doom users to years of health consequences. Shortness of breath is one thing, but emphysema and cancer will kill lifelong smokers just as well as a 50-story fall.
Smoking can even hurt people who don’t smoke. The damages of secondhand smoke are well documented. Study after study has established that being near enough fumes from tobacco products can lead to almost all the same issues that plague regular smokers.
I grew up with two cigarette-smoking parents. I have no desire for the smell that stalks the Melville Library’s west entrance to get any more overbearing.
But a total ban? Punishing addicts? That’s ridiculous.
The American Cancer Society flatly states that there is no such thing as a safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. But here’s the thing: Stony Brook students are still exposed to cigarette fumes on a daily basis since people just light up wherever they think they can get away with it. Enforcing the ban more strictly might help reduce the amount of smoking on campus, but the idea that this school can be made entirely tobacco-free is just unrealistic. If the university were to designate a smoking area or two on campus, fairly removed from most student traffic, that might actually keep non-smokers removed enough from their counterparts to reduce that exposure.
Another major downside of cigarette smoking that negatively affects the campus community is the litter it produces. As recently as November 2016, nearly two full semesters after the ban came to be, a tobacco cleanup effort gathered over two pounds of cigarette butts around the Melville Library. That’s a far cry from the pre-ban numbers, but discarded cigarettes are still a common and ugly sight that makes Stony Brook’s failure to truly eliminate tobacco use obvious to anybody on school grounds.
But even the litter can be taken care of if we just lift the ban. A community that understands some of its inhabitants smoke creates designated smoking areas and provides disposal options that aren’t prone to catching fire from a half-extinguished flame.
If Stony Brook were to just take those two simple steps, it would place the onus for keeping the campus free of nicotine-related litter back on the students. Suddenly, throwing a cigarette butt on the ground would become a callous, inconsiderate thing instead of the closest thing to a rational option for disposal a smoker has on campus. Right now, it’s litter or a risk for starting a fire, and I applaud the students who resist the temptations of pyromania when they’re caught in the lowest ebbs of academia.
Stony Brook went tobacco-free to promote what they’ve called “an air of respect.” While the ban has gone a long way toward reducing the amount of tobacco use and litter around campus, it has far from
I implore university administrators to admit they’ve lost this battle. If the school decides to err on the side of humility, it can begin an honest dialogue on how to best manage tobacco usage within its confines. It can take the time to consider both the health concerns of the campus’ non-smokers and treat the people who choose to deal with their stress through nicotine like human beings with respectable needs.
Maybe that adjustment would take some arguing to truly work out, but it would certainly be better than burying our heads in the sand and pretending we’ve already dealt with the problem.