It’s hard to disagree with the fact that smoking cigarettes is an injurious and potentially annoying habit. State legislators are negotiating a ban on indoor smoking in most Michigan businesses in an effort to protect the health of employees and patrons from the hazards associated with secondhand smoking. This is thought by many to be valid and sensible legislation. But the University’s ban on smoking throughout campus — set to take effect in July of 2011 — cannot be described as such.

The innumerable health risks of cigarette smoke are well known. People who smoke cigarettes, especially University students, should be aware of the consequences. A smoking ban doesn’t introduce any new information that may encourage an individual to not start or stop smoking. Chiding smokers serves no practical purpose other than to annoy the target.

The main cited reason for the University’s smoking ban is decreasing exposure to secondhand smoke. Outdoor secondhand smoke is not completely safe: exposure to it while sitting next to a smoker for extended periods of time is harmful. But campus is not a stagnant location. Many people walk to class while smoking or take smoke breaks outside of university buildings. So while it’s true that smoke may be inhaled while entering a building, it’s not a health risk — it’s simply an irritation.

Banning a habit for merely being irritating would be discriminatory, which sets an intolerable and unfair precedent. Smoking has an excessively negative stigma in our society in comparison to other equally bad and disgusting behaviors. Obesity has very similar health risks to smoking: heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Still, following this logic, the criticism received by an overweight person eating a rich dessert is not even comparable to the scolding often initiated by lighting a cigarette. But a policy has not been suggested to limit food types and intake of people in the University dining halls. People can eat what they want, and some choose five slices of pizza and three cookies. Following the logic of the smoking ban, wouldn’t limitations on eating habits improve the health of the overall campus? Why has this never been proposed? Because such a policy, were it suggested, would be called laughable, ludicrous and would be met with an uproar of protest from students.

Such outrage would not be without good reason. A food intake policy would greatly impinge on the personal liberty of both the students and employees of the University and violate the principles upon which the United States was founded. A smoking ban would have a similar effect.

A smoking ban sets a dangerous precedent for what may follow. That means standing and talking loudly on a cell phone in a crowd of people could be banned because it disrupts the atmosphere on campus. In reality, professors may enforce no cell-phone policies in their classroom since banter on the phone interferes with learning, but a cell phone policy could not be implemented campus-wide since it’s a public area. This makes any ban on a legal and personal activity an egregious violation of students’ rights. As a taxpayer-funded institution, the University should be an all-inclusive environment. The ban on smoking contradicts this principle.

But even aside from the question of fairness, the ban would be difficult to enforce and its effectiveness is doubtful. There is no proposed fine for banning smoking on campus, leaving very little incentive to follow the policy. This makes having such a policy on the books even more ridiculous.

All people have their flaws and failings: smoking is just one of these flaws. The President of the United States even admits to smoking the occasional cigarette as he battles his addiction. Regardless, an annoying habit should not be banned for minor convenience.

Harsha Panduranga can be reached at harshap@umich.edu.

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