I hate the smell of cigarette smoke. It’s disgusting. It irritates my throat and lungs and sticks to my clothes and in my hair — gross. So, on a personal level, I’m selfishly pleased by the campus-wide smoking ban scheduled for implementation next summer. But on the other hand, even I, with my distaste for cigarettes, think that the University is getting too big for its britches — especially since it hasn’t been able to enforce its current limited outdoor bans.
In April 2009, the University announced that the entire campus will become smoke-free effective July 1, 2011. The campus-wide smoking ban is part of its efforts to promote healthy living and decrease insurance costs by encouraging a healthier group of employees.
According to an Apr. 8 letter to the Daily written by University Chief Health Officer Dr. Robert Winfield, the campus-wide ban was also in response to complaints from students in residence halls. Some said that smokers gathered near entrances and their smoke drifted up into dorm windows. Though the University has restrictions on smoking in proximity to buildings, they have rarely been enforced. Everyone has seen smokers gathering just outside the northeast entrance to Mason Hall. Since the University hasn’t been able to enforce even this relatively minor restriction, I’m not convinced that it will be able to enforce the ban across the considerably-sized campus.
We’re about to see if the University can make the ban work — there’s going to be something of a trial run at Michigan Stadium. The Athletic Department released a statement on June 7 announcing that the smoking will be banned in the Big House for the 2010 football season, as reported by the Daily last week. Athletic Director David Brandon said the decision was made so that implementation of the ban would coincide with completion of stadium renovations.
Previous rules have prohibited smoking in the seating bowl, but allowed it at designated areas in the concourse, as football spectators will recall Big House announcer Carl Grapentine informing them at each game. Not anymore. Now, smoking will be prohibited on all stadium grounds, so fans who smoke will have to exit the stadium to light up. Since the stadium doesn’t allow re-entrance to the stadium after they exit, fans will either miss a portion of the game or have to wait for its entire duration to have a cigarette.
When the University announced the plans for the outdoor ban, I wondered if it would extend to the Big House. After all, each football game attracts more than 100,000 rabid football fans. And since about 20 percent of Americans smoke, according to the American Heart Association, the math adds up to approximately 20,000 smokers. Many of these aren’t University students, faculty or staff.
Telling 20,000 random fans that they can’t smoke is excessive. Keeping these people from smoking for four hours isn’t going to get them to kick the habit. It also isn’t going to significantly impact non-smokers’ health. Instead, we’re just going to end up with a bunch of grumpy, nicotine-deprived smokers at football games.
I’m not sure why the University thinks it’s going to be able to enforce the ban. It hasn’t even been able to enforce rules that banned smoking only within the seating bowl. I’ve sat behind smoking students at football games on more than one occasion. A few polite words have convinced smokers to put out their cigarettes, but it annoys me to no end that some people light up in the seating bowl. First of all, Carl Grapentine just told them not to. And we’re packed into the student section like sardines. Smoking in such close proximity to other people is rude, to say the least.
But I’m fine with having designated smoking areas in the concourse. Since I’ve never actually seen one, I assume that they are in low-trafficked areas where a cigarette won’t bother other spectators. It isn’t my place to tell other people not to smoke. If they want to pump their bodies full of tar and toxins, that’s their business. As long as they do it in low-traffic, open areas so smoke doesn’t impact the health or comfort of non-smoking fans, smokers should be allowed to light up.
While I might selfishly enjoy freedom from the smell of cigarettes, the libertarian in me says that the ban is overkill and won’t work. I doubt that it will effectively stop anyone from smoking within the Big House. The University should focus on setting realistic goals — like actually enforcing the rules that keep secondhand smoke isolated in low-traffic areas — before it attempts to regulate the behavior of 20,000 rabid football fans so extensively.
Rachel Van Gilder is the Daily’s 2010 editorial page editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.