An ignoble experiment

UMD and MSU-Moorhead campus-wide smoking bans are misguided.

Beginning this September, the University of Minnesota-Duluth will go smoke free – everywhere. Not just in classrooms or outside the entrances of buildings, but in parking lots, fields and any other part of the University property. Only in residence hall courtyards, where students have already signed contracts that specify smoking areas, will smoking be allowed, and next fall, it will be banned there, too. They follow the lead of Minnesota State University-Moorhead, which became the first four-year university in the state to ban smoking from their campus in May of last year. And there were grumblings about passing a similar ban here on the Twin Cities campus at the beginning of the summer.

This approach to smoking is misguided and not one that our campus should support. The truth about smoking is both well-known and well-publicized, as any glance at a University bulletin board will tell you. It’s bad for your health – deadly even. But there is a vital difference between protecting nonsmokers from smoke and using a state-funded university to modify behavior that those in the majority, or sometimes just a very active minority, deem unpleasant. This puritan impulse led to the last so-called “Noble Experiment” – prohibition of alcohol during the 1920s. And we need not remind anyone how closely that was followed or how well it worked out.

A poorly ventilated room where people have no choice but to breathe the same air, and the chance that one might smell a whiff from a smoker’s nicotine plume while walking across campus are not the same thing, and we shouldn’t treat them like they are. The sheer size of our campus would make a similar ban both impractical and cruel, forcing what could be a long walk in below-zero weather just to have a cigarette.

The fact remains that cigarettes are legal. They kill many thousands of people every year, but until they are made illegal – political suicide of the highest order – a public ground such as a university mall should not be off-limits to someone wanting to have a smoke. The University should not adopt the heavy-handed approach of these other universities.