If the University has its way, it won’t be so easy for smokers to light up on campus. The University has decided that the entire campus will go smoke free in two years, including outdoor areas. While the University has a responsibility to teach its students about the negative effects of smoking, this ban goes too far. The University should offer help to students who want to quit while still recognizing the right to smoke in open spaces.

The proposed ban will outlaw smoking on all University property as of July 1, 2011. University Chief Health Officer Robert Winfield, co-chair of the Smoke Free University Steering Committee, explained that the decision was made to improve the health of the University community. He says the cost of health care for smokers is at least $2,000 more than it is for non-smokers, and fewer smokers on campus may reduce the University’s healthcare expenditures.

In many cases, the overall health needs of campus come first. The 1987 ban on smoking in most University buildings and following 2003 ban in residence halls were necessary to protect University students and staff from the health risks of secondhand smoke. But eliminating smoking in outdoor spaces has a negligible benefit for nonsmokers that substantially inconveniences smokers. The ban will force smokers to frequently travel off campus to places where they can smoke. Smokers who live in University dorms and apartments will be even more affected by the ban.

By banning smoking in outdoor spaces, the University is not promoting public health, but taking away a personal choice. The role of the University is not to play the angry parent. Instead, it should educate them on the issue.

The University can do much to discourage smoking on campus without banning it. It already plans to offer discounted quitting treatments and free counseling to smokers. It could prohibit smoking near entrances to buildings to protect non-smokers from exposure to secondhand smoke.

Despite the health risks, smoking is still a personal choice. The University’s recent decision to ban smoking throughout campus, including outdoors, puts a severe burden on smokers and essentially eliminates the right to make that choice. The University shouldn’t deny students and staff their rights, and it shouldn’t treat smokers like children.

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