There has been a lot of talk lately about the University’s proposed campus-wide smoking ban, which would prohibit smoking on all University property starting in July 2011. Aside from the fact that the ban is both unfair and an infringement upon students’ rights, the ban’s enforcement mechanism the ban is illogical. Violators of the ban will be directed to cessation workshops instead of paying fines. But cessation workshops aren’t going to curb smoking on campus. Instead of creating a new policy that isn’t going to work, enforcement of the current smoking policy on campus should be improved.
First of all, it’s important to remember that the policy in place now, which says that smoking should be a “reasonable distance” from building entrances, isn’t enforced. Cigarette smokers can always be found smoking in between classes directly outside busy buildings like Mason Hall or the Modern Language Building. It’s possible that the new policy is partially a reaction to complaints due to lax enforcement rather than the need for a new initiative. After all, Ken Warner, dean of the School of Public Health, said at a University forum last week that he wasn’t sure how the ban originated.
It may be true that at four other universities that implemented a similar prohibition, 97 percent of people were said to have behaved in accordance with it. This could be because a comprehensive ban has more concrete limits than “reasonable distance,” or because relatively shoddy enforcement goes under the radar. But studies of compliance rates have not been done for the 256 other colleges where a smoking ban has been put in place, so it’s definitely possible that the compliance rate is exaggerated.
It’s irritating that the University administration seems to be making the same mistake. The first smoking policy isn’t working properly because it isn’t enforced, and the restrictive new policy borne of this failure will probably fall into the same trap.
Though the University’s intentions may be benevolent, there is a major flaw in this approach. Understanding why takes a review of the transtheoretical model regarding behavioral change. According to the theory, the process of quitting smoking can be broken into five stages: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance. The most important stage to understand is precontemplation. In this stage, individuals are completely unwilling to quit and may not be swayed because they are either “unconvinced of the problem, see change as impossible or are unwilling to change.”
As the 2006 Maryland Adult Tobacco Surveys show, 61 percent of smokers are in this precontemplation stage. Essentially, direction to attend smoking cessation workshops wouldn’t be beneficial at all to them. Considering the majority of smokers on campus are likely to be in the precontemplation stage, these workshops have a far greater potential to be a waste of money than an effective enforcement mechanism.
The University of Iowa, which was mandated to ban smoking on campus by state law, has a much more logical approach to enforcing the law. There, violators are fined $50 per infraction. Establishing tangible consequences, as opposed to offering treatments that smokers may not be open to, is a much more effective method of making sure the University’s current policy is followed. In addition, a fine would easily raise revenue for the University, which could help make up the cost of cessation programs that may be useful to the proportion of smokers who are considering quitting. Such programs could be a part of the solution, but not the major component of aiding in the enforcement of the ban.
If the current smoking policies were properly enforced, and officers ticketed people smoking near buildings, there may have been less support for the campus-wide smoking ban in the first place. This enforcement should have been the solution to any complaints about smoking on campus. The prohibition is an egregious violation of students’ rights, and it excessively stigmatizes one bad habit — but the wrong approach is being taken to enforce it by the administration, since most smokers aren’t going to quit because of a cessation workshop. If the ban is inevitable, it would be better to save the money and fine violators.
Harsha Panduranga can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.