Students concerned about the looming campus-wide smoking ban probably found little to be excited about at the first public forum addressing the policy last week. Barring some unforeseen change of heart, the University will become a smoke-free campus in July 2011. Though the University should promote public health, this policy goes too far in limiting the right of students to smoke. Rather than subjecting smokers to a policy that will severely restrict their lifestyle while providing little benefit to overall public health, the University should simply enforce existing bans on smoking inside and directly outside of buildings.

Announced in April, the ban will extend the existing restrictions on smoking to include all outdoor University property. The University held its first public forum regarding the ban last week. Ken Warner, dean of the School of Public Health, led the session and spoke alongside other individuals representing the Smoke-Free University Initiative. One of the primary concerns addressed at the forum was the plan to enforce the policy. Instead of directly punishing those in violation of the ban, smokers will be offered workshops aimed at helping them quit. Warner was confident that students will comply with the ban, and that the policy will promote healthy decision-making.

It’s no secret that smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke leads to adverse health effects. For this reason, the University already has in place sensible rules that prohibit smoking inside buildings and within specified distances of them, as well as on all hospital grounds. These are reasonable restrictions that protect public health, and the University should make sure that they are being followed. It may indeed be true that the areas surrounding buildings are in need of better enforcement.

But banning smoking campus-wide is overkill. The health benefits would be negligible to nonsmokers, as secondhand smoke only poses a danger in enclosed environments. The health of the campus population in general is not significantly impacted by this ban, while smokers themselves will be seriously inconvenienced, needing to either go off campus to smoke or quit the habit.

But the University has no right to force smokers to quit. That decision should remain with the individual smoker. The University can and should promote health by offering free cessation workshops and products to smokers who want to quit. There’s a fine line between promoting health and requiring it, and a campus-wide outdoor ban crosses it.

It’s also troubling that no matter how much the University insists that it wants input from students, faculty and employees, it probably won’t revise the policy. Students should by now be used to the administration setting up committees that it never actually listens to, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. The University should listen to the concerns of students, especially smokers, and find a way to accommodate them if it’s really going to move forward with this ban.

In their efforts to promote health, University officials are acting like domineering parents to thousands of students and faculty members. The University should forget about the ban and instead make a more concerted effort to keep smoking out of University buildings and entrances.

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