When Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the Freedom to Breathe Act of 2007 in to law last spring, most levelheaded citizens thought the trampling of smokers’ rights for the “greater good” was over for a while. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
As a nonsmoker, I can see both sides to the statewide ban that started Oct. 1 of this year. The law encourages more nonsmokers to go to restaurants that previously may have been a haven for smoke, and therefore, potential harm. For small towns and their businesses, however, the ban is just another hurdle for their already struggling economies, not to mention the personal liberties violations involved. Following this legislation, college campuses, like Minnesota State University-Moorhead, began passing campuswide smoking bans that prohibit smoking on any campus property. More relevant to the University, UMD officials established a similar ban last fall.
Now, health employees on the Twin Cities campus are looking to put a similar ban in place for all smoking anywhere on University property.
Simply the idea of such a ban opens up a completely separate debate on how far University policies can go before they can be deemed unconstitutional. Does the University really have the right to completely outlaw something that is entirely legal? Personally, I’m counting down the days before they board up the McDonalds and put wheel clamps on cars to prevent students from putting themselves in further danger. The sad fact is that statistically, fast food eating and driving are far more dangerous than any person smoking outside of a building.
All of the cases involve some degree of uncertainty; many campus officials at these universities have even publicly admitted they are unsure about how such a ban would be enforced.
For University police and officials, the effort needed to enforce a campus wide ban would far exceed the benefits of someone being forced to cross the street to smoke a cigarette. We’ve already kicked them out of our bars and restaurants, and we’ve even made them stand 25 feet away from our buildings. Maybe it’s time to start enforcing some of the rules we already have before we dream up new ones.
Banning smoking on all property because it encourages people to stop the unhealthy habit is a mindless excuse for creating more bureaucracy over adults to make their own decisions. If the world worked that way, the University would ban interaction between people, because it would lower the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases by a few percentage points.
We are at a crossroads in American history, where officials on all levels of government are attempting to preempt dangerous situations we may walk in to, without considering the side effects of such actions on our personal liberties. Our student health fees are paying for weight loss programs, STI testing and treatment, pregnancy tests, smoking counseling, dental work, massage therapy, prescription drugs and many other services. Most of the services guaranteed to everyone are for preventable problems. We are charged this cost every semester, whether we use those services ourselves or not.
A smoker who can’t smoke outside moves into their home or car where the threat of second-hand exposure to others is greatly increased. There is little or no evidence that smokers who stand 25 feet or more from a building are posing a health risk to anyone, so the real drive behind this policy must be to create an environment where such an individual is forced to quit smoking because of such limited options. If this is the case, numerous studies have found such actions are unproductive and put young people in harms way, because adults are forced to smoke at home. A University College London study found smokers were more likely to smoke at home under a ban, and that a total ban would only intensify such a trend.
This is just one of several fluffy and meaningless items on the agenda of a few “advocates” who have too much time on their hands, similar to when student government voted to support a “resolution” in favor of a LRT tunnel under Washington Avenue without even contemplating the cost of such a project. The state legislature cannot possibly take the University seriously when we spend so much time on decisions like these.
It’s time to get back to the basics of a strong education through qualified faculty, trimming the unnecessary bureaucracy, and putting needs of students first.
Andy Post welcomes comments at [email protected]