Like campus smoking ban, fossil fuel use is a public health issue

by Nick Theis, University student

Everyone knows that old Mötley Crüe tune “Smokin’ in the Boys Room,” and the final line “smokin’ ain’t allowed in school.”

This past summer, the University of Minnesota went totally smoke-free. Now nobody can get a nicotine fix anywhere — not in the men’s room, not the locker room, the ladies’ room, nowhere — not even with an e-cigarette. So I am curious how this ban is being received among different groups, including liberals, conservatives, libertarians, smokers and nonsmokers alike. A survey by Boynton Health Service found, for instance, that about 47 percent of students strongly supported a smoking ban in 2012. Why?

I am not a smoker, so I can’t answer that. As an air-breather, however, I can say that the ban probably doesn’t go far enough, because whether you’re a heavy smoker or only a casual secondhand smoker, you have more to worry about than cigarette smoke.

Last October, the International Agency for Research on Cancer determined that the air we breathe is in fact a leading cause of cancer worldwide, causing more than 220,000 deaths due to lung cancer in 2010. And it’s not the cigarette smokers who are polluting the air. It’s the cars, factories and power plants.

If the University wants to ensure its residents live healthy lives via banning smoking, even if some of us have to sacrifice our liberties to implement these policies, why is it so hesitant to divest from the fossil fuel industry, let alone wean itself off fossil fuels?

It is possible that in fact the University, rather than genuinely looking out for the well-being of society, is concerned with its image: that passing a campus-wide ban on smoking will convince the public of its liberal ideals. After all, other campuses prohibit it. Even 3M bans smoking on its campus.  

It is also possible that people do not perceive fossil fuel use as a public health issue, but rather an environmental issue, a non-issue or something else less urgent than an epidemic.