More than a year after becoming a smoke-free campus, the University has come to be a poster child for national tobacco-free programs. On Wednesday, Howard Koh, the assistant secretary for health at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, used the University as the site to officially launch the nationwide Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative. While the initiative may have healthy intentions, a widespread smoking ban does not promote the tolerance expected from a college campus. Smoking is a personal choice, and universities shouldn’t attempt to intrude so much into students’ privacy.
The nationwide Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative aims to increase the number of smoke-free campuses. Currently 17 colleges are smoke-free, including the University. Since July 1, 2011, all of the University’s campuses — Dearborn, Flint and Ann Arbor — have been smoke-free. Under the ban, members of the community are forbidden to light a cigarette on University property, including outside associated buildings. The smoke-free policy relies on students and faculty informing the Office of Student and Conflict Resolution when they encounter someone who isn’t complying with the ban.
This approach is unenforceable at its core. More than a year after the ban, students, staff and other members of the community still remain confused about whom they should consult when they see someone smoking. Even if they are aware of the office, many may be reluctant to file a complaint, either feeling uncomfortable ‘tattling’ on another campus member or not wanting to bother with the paperwork. Other universities adopting a smoking ban will likely encounter this problem of enforceability when drafting their own policies.
Instead of turning toward an all-out ban, universities across the country should look for other ways to encourage students to quit the unhealthy habit. From offering free nicotine patches and gum to providing counseling services that help smokers kick the habit, the University has taken positive steps to support smokers quitting at their own pace. If colleges across the country want to protect the health of students and faculty, administrations should ensure that anti-smoking resources are provided and publicized to the university’s community. Education and support are the best ways to help addicts — not unenforceable punishment.
“Treating smokers with respect is important in breaking the cycle of behavior,” said Dr. Robert Winfield, director of University Health Service. Yet respect is the last thing smokers receive under these campus-wide smoking bans. Universities should be models of tolerance, but policies that encourage chastising stigmatized behavior do anything but foster such an environment.
Koh, speaking on campus on Sep. 12, said the University should be applauded for “instilling an anti-tobacco culture.” While this may be true, a smoking ban promotes discrimination against people who smoke, rather than promoting a culture willing to help people quit. Tolerance should be the norm in a university setting and a smoking ban will only go up in smoke.