RHA smoking ban violates students’ right to privacy

The University Division of Student Affairs announced last week that, as of Sept. 1, all residence halls will be smoke-free environments. The announcement follows the Residence Hall Association’s November resolution in support of this policy shift. While banning smoking in the residence halls may seem like sound policy, the University has overstepped its bounds and infringed on the rights of its students.

This decision – which makes Michigan State University the only Big Ten school to allow smoking in its residence halls – seems to have been made without taking either reality or practicality into consideration. Currently, only 5 percent of the rooms in the residence halls are smoking rooms. And while some members of RHA may have a puritanical desire to eliminate smoking in the residence halls, these same members need to realize that smoking in the privacy of one’s own home is neither illegal, nor does it impinge on the rights of others.

RHA has made claims that poor ventilation systems in the residence halls may circulate the smoke from smoking rooms to non-smoking rooms and thereby irritate students with respiratory problems or asthma. While RHA has never adequately explored this issue, it either is the result of unacceptably poor ventilation systems, which must be repaired immediately, or a colorful spin campaign lacking any semblance of the truth. For example, hotels have both smoking and non-smoking rooms, yet the issue of whether patrons should be allowed to smoke indoors is not exactly rocking the hotel industry to its core. Any alleged ventilation problems are far from insurmountable.

Supporters of the decision to ban smoking in the residence halls also point out that smoking is a fire hazard. Increased fire protection devices, such as sprinklers, could help ease this safety concern.

Subjecting those students who wish to exercise their legal right to smoke, whether or not it is wise to exercise this right, to Michigan’s harsh weather conditions is a heartless move. Standing outside in the bitter cold of Michigan winter for even the little time it takes to smoke a cigarette can be unbearable.

RHA claims that it consulted students in a series of meetings in order to take their concerns into consideration. The atmosphere of the meetings, however, promoted cynicism among the students concerned about this issue. RHA conducted them with the premise that even though it would hear from students, their opinions were irrelevant.

It is important to make clear the distinction between this latest decision and the 1994 decision to ban smoking in the University’s public buildings. While it is reasonable for there to be a smoking ban in areas where the smoke could irritate other people, this latest move is more an intrusion on an individual’s right to privacy than a boon to the public interest.

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