Negotiating the Smoking Ban: A Proposed Alternative


Everyone has a basic human right to clean air. They also have the individual liberty to do what they want with their own bodies. But what happens when those two rights  are in opposition? When one person exercising their right to, say, smoke a cigarette, infringes on someone else’s right to breathe in a lungful of clean air?

This is the conflict I see at the heart of Colorado College’s upcoming ban on all tobacco products, including, according to the College’s website, “cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, mini-cigars, bidis, hookah, pipes, kreteks (also called clove cigarettes), as well as marijuana cigarettes, and bongs; and “the use of any type of smokeless tobacco including electronic cigarettes and chewing tobacco, such as spit tobacco, snus and other smokeless products.”

At first, I was going to write a pro-smoking ban article. If someone wants to exercise their right to do what they want with their body, that’s great, but as soon as it invades and pollutes others’ spaces and future health outcomes, that becomes unacceptable. I previously saw the ban as, primarily, a public health measure. Exposure to secondhand smoke, no matter the level of exposure, still contains at least 70 known carcinogens and is proven to lead to cancer. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and American Cancer Society (ACS), there is no safe level of secondhand smoke.

To be clear, I certainly do support the college’s efforts to make campus a cleaner and healthier environment. However, how does including products like chewing tobacco and smokeless products promote the College’s purported mission to create a cleaner environment, when neither affects air quality? Though I completely support creating a cleaner environment for everyone, I do not support the College deciding what individuals can put in their bodies, especially when everyone on campus is of legal age to purchase tobacco products. And I know I’m not speaking alone when I say that it would be unusual to walk through campus and be absolutely offended by throngs of students ripping bongs and affecting my air quality.

So, my views have certainly evolved from a purely pro-smoking ban stance. I have developed a more nuanced proposition that, I think, would be easier for most people to support. It was a few serious flaws in my previous argument that changed my mind.

First, how effective would a complete ban on tobacco products be? People will certainly continue consuming and using tobacco products on campus, especially if they are addicted, which is why I wholly support the College’s efforts to improve cessation resources.

The other flaw in my original position was overestimating the actual perceived impact of secondhand smoke in our day-to-day lives walking across campus. Would I really have noticed the smoke if it hadn’t been pointed out to me? The answer to that is yes, but only in a few places—in front of Loomis Hall (people sit 10 feet from the door and smoke), in front of Palmer Hall (smoke has wafted into my classes), and on the bench behind Montgomery Hall (the smoke flows right into my room.)

Thus, my adjusted stance on the smoking ban is this: instead of banning all tobacco products on campus (I think we all recognize the actual impact of such a policy would be negligible), the College should instead actually enforce the Colorado state law that smoking must be farther than 15 feet of an entrance. In fact, I think the College should increase that to 50 feet, because frankly, 15 feet is minimal. In addition to that, the College should create smoking-designated areas on campus, away from buildings, residences, and outdoor gathering places. I think this alternative is more realistic, would have a greater impact on the community, and is easier to support than a draconian ban on all tobacco products.

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