The Residence Halls Association is yet again trying to stop students who smoke from lighting up where they live. A proposal to ban smoking within 25 feet of residence halls recently went before the body, which sent it back to a task force. RHA voted to ban smoking in dorm rooms three years ago, but it struck down the proposed outdoor ban last year. All students, including those who smoke, have a right to treat their dormitory as their home. In Michigan’s cold winters, forcing smokers far from their homes is a particularly cruel infringement of their rights.
Although students who do smoke are a clear minority in residence halls, they pay the same price as every other student and ought to be able to live on campus in an environment that suits their admittedly addictive and unhealthy habit. For many freshmen students and Residential College underclassmen, seeking off-campus housing is not a viable alternative.
Proponents of the smoking ban note that secondhand smoke from students smoking near doors and windows seeps into non-smokers’ rooms. This is indeed a problem, but its best solution lies not with smokers but with replacing the outdated ventilation systems in the University’s residence halls. Such ventilation repairs should be part of the residence hall renovations the University plans as part of the Residential Life Initiative.
The Residence Halls Association hopes that the Department of Public Safety will enforce the amendment, should it ever pass. DPS, however, already appears to have its hands full with such pressing campus safety issues as playing the role of meter maid and doling out fines for minors in possession of alcohol. Even if DPS agreed to enforce a new ban on smoking near residence halls, students who smoke within 25 feet from residence halls may not be on University property anyway, and therefore out of DPS’s jurisdiction. Given the slim chances of its regular enforcement, such a smoking ban would do little to address the concerns of students whose rooms receive smoke from outside. Indeed, the RHA’s Community Living Standards already restricts students from smoking within “a reasonable distance” of doors and windows.
University Housing has an obligation to accommodate smokers and non-smokers alike. Rather than trying to ban smoking – a habit many nicotine-addled students are unable to break – RHA and the University owe students a better plan for helping non-smokers avoid polluted air.