Monday, February 05, 2007

They Gone Went and Did It

Because I have been avoiding reading the news - even the paper - hoping to cut down on wasted time (with mixed success - I end up playing a lot of sudoku instead), I missed last Friday's announcement that smoking will be banned on all IU campuses.

Let me skip the normal rant and cut straight to the substance:

Trustee Vice President Patrick Shoulders expressed concern Friday that prohibiting smoking, particularly on a residential campus such as IU Bloomington, could be complex. He urged Herbert to consider the potential ramifications of a smoking ban before enacting one.

Now there's someone talking sense. There are close to 40,000 students at IU, most of whom live on campus. Surely people who are over 18 years of age have a right to make lifestyle choices involving their own health. Granted, the campus is IU's property, and the administration is therefore technically allowed to enforce whatever such regulations it wants. But this only raises the question of why smoking in particular? Last I checked, college students did LOTS of things that are, shall we say, less than healthy. And no, I'm not talking here about things like drinking and doing drugs - which are illegal for most students (all students in the case of illegal drugs). I mean things like eating crappy food (or not eating at all to lose what little weight they have left), not getting enough exercise, staying up way too late, not sleeping enough, not drinking enough water, engaging in unprotected sex, what have you. I guess there are people who would love to see every aspect of students' lives regulated - back to the old days of enforced chapel and morning exercise? But most of us are more inclined to treat 18-year-olds, however ill-advised this certainly is in many cases, as adults.

It's true that students are in many cases immature. The line for legal adulthood is arbitrary - we all know this. Many people are mature enough by age 14 to handle all the responsibilities that go with parenting, voting, holding down a job (or two) to pay the bills, etc. But a great many others aren't until their mid-20s, or even their early 30s. There is great individual variation here - so the law does the best it can by settling on 18. This is true for all such laws - the smoking age, the drinking age, the driving age, the age of legal sexual consent. So sure, it shouldn't be too hard for smoking ban proponents to find me some examples of dumb freshmen who start smoking because their friends do. But the university is not, nor should it be, these students' parents. If making the choice to start smoking is a bad choice, so be it - it's a legal choice.

The IUPD surely has better things to do than enforce feelgood bans on legal activities. There is, after all, a great deal more illegal drinking and drug use that goes on on this campus than there is legal smoking. It need hardly be pointed out (I hope? Sometimes I wonder...) that alcohol is worse for your health than cigarettes, that people have a greater tendency to abuse it, and that it is associated with all kinds of social problems (violence, rape, fatal accidents) that cigarettes are not. And of course in addition to substance abuse, there is a whole host of other even more important things IUPD resources are needed for: responding to emergency calls involving violence, sexual assault, theft, etc. I can't honestly believe that the university thinks it is a good use of resources to put a silly smoking ban into effect.

And yet, they're going a good deal further than that.

The president will also direct the chancellors to adopt programs to help smokers at IU kick the habit, he said.

Now this is surely outside of the university's mission! The decision to stop smoking is an invidiual one, and should be handled by the person who makes it.

But talk of this being about the health of students is hypocritical anyway.

"This is about the health and well-being of students, faculty and staff at Indiana University," [President Herbert] said.

No it bloody isn't! If that were the case, then why is it easier to buy Pizza Hut and McDonald's on campus than it is to find a balanced meal? Why are there vending machines that sell sodas and candy? Why is Sugar and Spice even allowed to operate? It can't be about health!

What gets me most, though, is that they don't even bother to enforce the current smoking regulations - which are reasonable, if a bit nannyish and heavy-handed. The current rule on campus is no smoking in buildings, or outside within 30 feet of buildings. In other words, only in open air and out of everyone else's way. Never mind that it has never been conclusively proven that minor second-hand smoke exposure causes health problems - under the assumption that it does, the ban reasonably gives non-smokers a way to avoid the cigarette smoke they despise (and some are allergic, after all).

Now - to be perfectly honest about this, I am opposed even to this regulation and would prefer to see smoking simply allowed, even in classrooms, like it is in Germany. But I recognize that there is a conflict of interests here, and I'm willing to compromise if that's what most students and faculty want. The current policy lets IU look "tough on smoking," which I admit is a trendy thing to be these days, without actually regulating anyone's lifestyle. And despite frequent whining of this type:

"It does bother me to walk behind smokers, but it is important to keep in mind that people do smoke and people sit outside and smoke all the time," [Freshman Krista Bergman] said. "Many students don't have the guts to tell other students they are disobeying the 30-feet rule, but if they could find a way to enforce anything, that would be great."

...the fact is that people comply with the ban by and large. Yes, the area outside of Ballantine is one place where they don't so much (because there's no obvious place to go to smoke around that horrible building), but everywhere else on campus avoiding smokers is trivial. And enforcing the ban around Ballantine is not even out of the question.

IU Police Department Capt. Jerry Minger said police do not enforce current smoking rules. He said violations are dealt with by the campus judicial system.

It seems like they'd prefer to try enforcing the current policy before making the rash step of banning smoking outright?

But see, this isn't about enforcement, or health, or anything other, really, than IU's image - and President Herbert's in particular.

Herbert said he was firm in his decision and intense opposition would not dissuade him from pushing to ban smoking.

I guess I don't see why this is "his" decision, exactly. I mean, shouldn't this kind of thing be put to a faculty and/or student vote? Not because it has to be, mind you - but just because it's the human thing to do. That is, at least make sure, before you go playing nanny to people, that you have some kind of broad support base!

I'm not a regular smoker. My upper limit on cigarettes in one day is about 8 - but my yearly consumption hovers at around only 3-4 packs. I smoke a cigar now and then and recently bought a hookah to smoke on the weekends while doing homework. I smoke, in other words, for the same reasons I drink - now and then, to relax, and not because I am addicted. Probably for that reason, I resent smoking bans quite a lot. I handle myself responsibly around tobacco in the sense that I know the balance between an enjoyable hobby and the excessive use (of ANY substance) that makes it a health hazard. I balance my enjoyment of smoking against concerns for my health - and am especially careful about this because I like running and do not want to do anything to damage my performance. My point being: my decision to smoke is a fully conscious one, made in full understanding of the risks and responsibilities. I don't believe I am the only person who can and does make decisions this way. Every smoker of legal age should be treated as just such a rational agent, their decisions about their own health respected, whether or not the university administration happens to agree with them.

I do not recognize this ban and will not abide by it. I don't have any good reason, I suppose, for drawing the line here, but it seems to me that this kind of micromanaging of people's lifestyle choices is a bad legal and cultural trend that needs more vigorous opposition. We have to start fighting back somewhere, and this is as good a place as any.

I look forward to smoking on campus daily in the fall, and sincerely hope I someday have the opportunity to blow a cloud of smoke in President Herbert's smug, self-congratulatory face.


At 12:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Joshua-

Thanks for reading the IDS.

-Kacie Foster
IDS Editor in chief


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