Fascist regimes killed millions of people throughout Europe in the 20th century. The University will ban smoking on campus. One of these things is not like the other.

In his viewpoint (A burdensome ban, 01/26/11), Timothy Hall compares the University’s Smoke-Free Initiative to dictatorial regimes. He invokes the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to demonstrate that the rule will be unjust. In one fell swoop, Hall has suggested that the University is as oppressive as murderous, genocidal governments or systems that lack any dignity in humanism. Hyperbole is fine for comedy, but Hall isn’t joking.

Hall also points out that the nature of government is injustice. It’s a natural byproduct of government, he claims. What he fails to recognize is that injustice is a natural byproduct of almost every similar institution. A ban on smoking that is remedied by peer pressure is no more or less just than a student having to breathe in second hand smoke while walking to class. One might even argue that it is far less just because there are more non-smokers than there are smokers. And one would be right.

It’s 2011. It’s not the 1940s or 1950s any longer, and only about 20 percent of Americans smoke. Eighty percent of Americans make the self-beneficial decision not to smoke. If we continue to allow smokers to smoke wherever they want, we are denying those 80 percent the right not to be around smoke wherever they want. Protecting the right of about 80 percent of Americans not to inhale smoke — first or second hand — is vital. Why is it even a question?

For what reason are smokers allowed to smoke in any place they want? People can’t be naked wherever they like. Why? Because the majority doesn’t want to see it. People can’t start blasting their music as loudly as they want wherever they like. Why? Because the majority doesn’t want to hear it. People can’t even necessarily protest whenever or wherever they like. Why? Because most people don’t want to be bothered by it. How is smoking any different? The majority doesn’t want to smell it or inhale it.

Isn’t that what this boils down to? Common courtesy — two words mean so much. If you don’t want me to walk up to you and spit in your face — which is fairly common courtesy — then don’t sit there and smoke in mine. Have the dignity and respect for yourself and for me that you would afford a random stranger in any other dynamic. I certainly doubt you would spit on a stranger, right?

If people practiced common courtesy about smoking, and smoked only in designated areas, then there would be virtually no problem with the ban. It wouldn’t be implemented because it wouldn’t be necessary. The “authoritarian, oppressive” government reacts to substantial societal problems. Remember that government isn’t the only thing that can be oppressive. Society can be too.

Hall says the policy to permit peer pressure to govern the ban degrades humanity. But peer pressure shouldn’t be necessary.

When I’m walking down the street, and I have to hold my breath so as not to inhale that god-awful smell coming from the person’s cigarette in front of me, I know that my comfort is being compromised. When I walk out of Mason Hall in the morning to be greeted by a puff of smoke, I know others aren’t giving me any courtesy.

I’ve made my choice concerning my health. I don’t want to be a smoker. Several members of my family have passed away from cancer and smoking-related illnesses. I understand that other people can make educated decisions regarding their health. And although I still believe that smoking is never a good choice for your health, I still recognize that others have a right to do it. Under the ban, you may still smoke. It’s just a matter of where.

And in any case, maybe the ban will help smokers. Smoking is a poor health choice no matter how you dice it. If it’s discouraged, it may just save your life. Obviously, this was the plan of the evil fascist heads of the University all along. Damn them.

Eric Szkarlat can be reached at eszkarla@umich.edu.

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