U shouldn’t ban student behavior

The University’s new ban on smoking and tobacco use sends the wrong message.

by Martin Jaakola

The University of Minnesota’s smoking and tobacco use ban started Tuesday following more than a year of debate.

Despite the controversy around the policy, a majority of students supported it in a December 2012 Boynton Health Service survey. It seems that many University students think this policy should be uncontroversial.

And who wouldn’t agree with the policy’s main goal of reducing smoking rates through providing a supportive environment that limits secondhand smoke and promotes healthy lifestyle choices?

That is why this policy strikes me as counterproductive and hypocritical. Pretending that banning something will take care of a problem is naïve. All this policy will do is push the problem elsewhere. Moreover, a campus rife with unhealthy practices preaching a message of health is humorous.

I should preface this view with my own experience. As an ex-smoker, I found that quitting came down to me alone. When I decided that it was adversely affecting my health and wallet, I quit. Snide comments from others on my own lifestyle choice didn’t make me want to quit any sooner.

Likewise, seeing others smoke outside has not made me want to return to smoking. Nor do I feel like the secondhand smoke from a small number of University students, faculty and staff adversely affects my quality of life. Just 1.9 percent of University students ages 18 to 24 reported smoking daily in the 2013 Boynton Health Service student health survey. Smoking rates have dropped drastically in just the past 15 years.

I fully agree that we should promote efforts to reduce smoking rates among students. However, banning electronic cigarettes and using disciplinary actions for noncompliance are the wrong approaches to tackle this issue.

The focus should be on reducing harm while making sure not to infringe on our personal liberties. There are many students paying a lot of money to attend school here. With smoking rates already in decline, why can’t we be more understanding of students, staff and faculty who have devoted years of their lives to the University? Designating smoking areas and allowing e-cigarettes would be fair alternatives, as many have had success reducing their nicotine intake with e-cigarettes.

Enforcement may be an issue. While not advocating noncompliance, I am heavily skeptical of this measure preventing smoking from occurring.

With all the talk of promoting a healthy environment, it’s surprising that smoking is our biggest problem. It seems that we mustn’t stop here. What about unhealthy meals offered at the food court in Coffman Union? What about the vending machines that generate revenue by feeding off of our addiction to sugar and other fattening snacks?

In an era where people are finally beginning to realize that banning substances such as marijuana does not work, I am surprised that banning smoking on campus is the University’s solution to this problem.

Offering help and forcing smokers’ behavior are separate things. It’s about time we learned the difference.