On Campus

Campus smoking bans are drifting too far

Puritan approach causes more problems than it solves

xavi talleda/Flickr

Memorial University, it seems, is edging towards becoming the next Canadian university to ban smoking entirely on its campus.

It’s easy to see why such a ban would be tempting and why other universities have gone in that direction, as my fellow commentator Ravanne Lawday explains here. Smoking poses well-known health hazards to smokers and bystanders alike. Smokers typically leave behind cigarette butts, which sullies the campus. And most universities these days have day cares, so campus smokers set a bad example for the kids.

On the other hand, a total or near-total smoking ban seems likely to cause as many problems as it solves.

Some students might skip classes (or parts of classes) if they can’t fit in a quick puff between Sociology and Algebra. Others might attend classes but be distracted by their cravings. Test takers might be badly disadvantaged if they are fighting with withdrawal as well as chemical formulae.

Besides, if health is the issue, why not ban cars from campus, thus reducing pollution and forcing students to get more exercise? This back and forth, of course, could go on indefinitely. In fact, I give this very topic to composition students as an example of one where there are strong arguments on both sides.

But in the end, I’m opposed to draconian restrictions to campus smoking because, to my mind, they smack of a kind of moral puritanism that I find disconcerting. We all know that smoking is bad for you—smokers know it too. They smoke either because they are willing to trade some health risks for the pleasure of smoking, or because they can’t help themselves. If it’s the first reason, then others should mind their own business. If it’s the second, others should have some compassion and realize that everyone has imperfections and weaknesses of one kind or another.

Worst of all, smokers are being targeted because they are a small minority. Whatever restrictions one sees on drinking, they are nothing compared to the attacks on smoking, in large measure because most people drink. But when less than one-in-five smoke, smokers provide an easy target, a target sighted straight down the nose of those with an air of superiority.

Todd Pettigrew teaches English at Cape Breton University. Follow him: @ToddPettigrew

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