In recent months, tobacco use has become a point of contention at Tufts. Some nonsmokers feel that they are being forced to inhale cigarette smoke on a daily basis and that smoking on campus has gotten out of hand. Many smokers, on the other hand, argue that as long as they aren’t deliberately blowing smoke in peoples’ faces, they should have the right to smoke in designated locations on campus. How can Tufts policy simultaneously minimize students’ exposure to secondhand smoke while respecting the rights of smokers? Should Tufts even intervene in this issue in the first place?
Some have suggested that Tufts follow in the footsteps of Harvard, Northeastern and other nearby universities and try to implement a tobacco-free policy across campus. There is already a group forming in support of a tobacco-free campus, and if national trends are any indication, Tufts may well be headed in that direction.
Though smoking on campus poses a problem for many students, a complete ban on smoking across campus is not a fair or realistic solution to the problems posed by tobacco use. Tufts should focus on education related to nicotine addiction and treatment rather than making a singular decision for all students.
It is easy to see why banning tobacco may appear to be a sensible policy at first glance. While the vast majority of Tufts students are not habitual smokers, it can sometimes feel that way, especially for students who have asthma or prefer to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke. This is especially evident outside the front doors of Tisch library, where groups of students often congregate to smoke, chat and take study breaks. Smokers are required to stand a certain number of feet away from the entrance when smoking, but as of now this rarely happens. No student should be forced to inhale cigarette smoke if they don’t want to, whether they have asthma or not, and this fact alone makes revamping of the university’s smoking policy worthy of serious consideration.
An all-out ban of smoking at Tufts, however, is not the only approach to solving this problem, and a ban on smoking would punish some students and employees for doing a perfectly legal activity that is often incredibly difficult to quit. People smoke cigarettes for a wide variety of reasons, but of these, one of the most frequently cited is stress reduction. If a student is cramming for an exam in the library and would like to step outside to take smoke break and calm down, who are we to tell them to stop? As long as they are standing far away enough from paths and doorways that they do not disturb other students, it is not the place of the university to keep them from doing as they wish. Rather than passing judgment on the personal choices of students, staff and faculty members, we should emphasize education on these issues and push initiatives such as providing nicotine gum and more guidance for quitting.
Banning tobacco on campus would force employees and students who smoke to leave campus several times each day in order to do something that allows them to comfortably live their lives and avoid the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Quitting can be a long process, and going “cold turkey” can be damaging to mental health and stress management. Forcing people to go through this trouble could impact their performance at work and in the classroom.
Though the concerns of students advocating that Tufts go tobacco-free are completely valid, there are better ways for us to address this issue. Before we rush to punish smokers for what is a legal and often innocuous behavior, we should take action to ensure that the rights of all students are respected.