Outdoor smoking ban

Justin Horwath

The Star Tribune, in a veritable scoop, reported that the University is considering an outdoor smoking ban. Star Tribune reporter Jenna Ross’s article, however late, does highlight some relevant points in the debate about whether to ban outdoor smoking on campus. But it fails to apply a shred of scrutiny to its supposed newspeg: the survey the University sent out measuring attitudes on campus about smoking. In an October 13 editorial, the editorial board pointed out that by not distinguishing between outdoor and indoor second-hand smoke, the survey is patently misleading. “It would have been a good distinction to make,” Boynton Public Health and Marketing Director Dave Golden told The Minnesota Daily editorial board. Psychometrics officials at the University, both on and off the record–including avid anti-smoker Dr. David Weiss, who helped pass the smoking-ban in the walkway of the Washington Avenue Bridge–criticized the survey. What’s especially troubling about the way in which the University is going about investigating the idea of an outdoor smoking ban is how underhanded and condescending its methods are. Ross’s article, citing the stages colleges and universities go through in passing smoking bans, posits the University is in the research phase, wherein schools gather information regarding attitudes about smoking bans. “Then they give people time to get used the idea. Next, they launch the ban, promoting smoking cessation programs along with it.” Will therapy be available in the second stage? Indeed, that the survey excluded the term “outdoor” indicates the administration is going to ban outdoor smoking, accuracy, transparency and thus real campus attitudes be damned. Even the Star Tribune report made a subjective assertion about outdoor smoking bans: “Several schools with bans report positive results: Fewer people smoking on campus and describing themselves as smokers.” For some smokers, “positive results” does not mean less people smoking because that assumes they view smoking in terms of health. And that’s just not true for those who aren’t choosing to quit, whether it should be. The editorial board is happy debating whether people on campus can willingly engage in a legal activity that has no proven deleterious health effects on those not participating in it. The editorial board would also be happy to debate whether the University should attempt to lower smoking rates on campus by forcing smokers off campus, thus endangering their safety. But let’s make those debates honest and transparent.