Sophomore Liz Amato walks uphill to her class at the University of California at Berkeley, huffing and puffing. But Amato is not out of shape: she’s found herself directly behind a student who is smoking a cigarette. The smoke drifts downhill and lingers around her face. Annoyed, she holds her breath to avoid inhaling the cancer-causing fumes.
By 2014, the UC system plans to clear the smoke entirely, saving Amato and her fellow students from the effects of cigarette smoke. All UC schools currently prohibit smoking indoors as well as within a 25-foot radius of all buildings, but the rest of the campus is fair game. UC President Mark Yudof announced last month that all ten campuses will become smoke-free over the next two years. The new policy will prohibit the use of cigarettes and other nicotine products such as chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes in both indoor and outdoor areas on UC campuses. According to the smoke-free policy proposal officially submitted by a UC subcommittee last October, enforcement of the ban will vary from campus to campus but will be “primarily educational with an emphasis on cessation resources.”
As the rate of smoking among American adults steadily decreases, bans are becoming more and more commonplace. Last year, New York City implemented one of the strictest anti-smoking policies in the world, extending its smoking ban to outdoor public areas like Central Park. Approximately 600 American universities have already enacted on-campus smoking bans, and Yudof said that he hopes the UC ban will encourage other universities to join the movement.
However, not all UC students are happy with the ban. Although almost everyone agrees that cigarettes lead to serious health problems like lung cancer, emphysema and cardiovascular disease, some students question whether an outright ban will actually make a difference. Is the ban a justifiable use of the UC system’s power, or does it infringe upon students’ personal freedoms and strive for an unrealistic goal? Even after the ban is implemented, can minimal enforcement effectively prevent students and faculty from smoking?
THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING
Dr. Timothy Fong is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and a member of the UCLA Smoke-Free Champions, a committee of health-care professionals who assisted with the UCLA Health System’s smoke-free initiative last fall. He plans on using his experience to assist UCLA administrators in the transition to a smoke-free campus. According to Fong, smoking cigarettes not only causes a wide variety of serious health problems but also damages a student’s overall well-being.
“There are no health benefits to smoking. It’s just as simple as that,” Fong said. “Compulsive, habitual smoking disrupts your work or your studies and it costs you money.”
Fong said he expects that the ban will benefit campus life and increase productivity in addition to inspiring students and faculty to be healthier.
“If anything, this will actually save money by reducing the expenses of cleaning up cigarettes, it’ll save money by staff not having to take so many days off if they’re sick from smoking, and it’ll save money from people who are not as productive at work and are smoking outside,” he said.
Currently, about 20% of Americans smoke on a regular basis, but only about 11% of adults in California smoke, partially thanks to our state’s rigorous clean-air laws and health-conscious culture. According to the smoke-free policy proposal, only 7.9% of UC students reported smoking in the last 30 days, as opposed to 16% of American college students overall.
The smoke-free policy proposal also stated that the transition over next two years should go smoothly given the relatively low rate of smoking on UC campuses.
But Amato said that smoking has a noticeable presence on her campus.
“It’s really popular [at Berkeley],” Amato said. “During freshman year, a lot of people started smoking for the first time, especially around the dorms…For non-smokers like me, it’s an inconvenience, but I feel like it happens just about everywhere so I just try to ignore it.”
Meanwhile, UCLA sophomore Ziyi Fu said that although she supports the anti-smoking message, she thinks the ban is somewhat unnecessary because smoking is barely noticeable at UCLA. She said that the presence of smokers on campus does not pose a problem to non-smokers like herself.
“I don’t really see people smoking that often, so I don’t really know if it really affects me,” Fu said.
ABUSE OF POWER?
Although the UC smoking ban is legal, not all students feel that the ban is a justifiable use of the UC system’s power and authority.
Last October, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 759 into law, giving California’s public universities the authority to create and enforce anti-smoking policies. Although the UC smoking ban is legal under state law, many students said the ban unfairly limits their personal freedoms.
UC Santa Cruz freshman Jeremy Taylor said that the UC system should use its power to address other issues, such as rising tuition rates, instead of trying to influence students’ personal decisions.
“I think it’s really a violation of individual liberties. No matter what the end goal is, [the ban is] taking away people’s rights to make their own choices for their bodies,” Taylor said.
Fu said she thinks that the ban on smoking is unfair because California state law allows college-aged students to purchase cigarettes and tobacco products.
“I mean, why would you punish someone if they’re 18 and of the legal age to smoke?” she said.
In many states that have passed laws banning smoking in outdoor areas, people have taken legal action in opposition. Missouri Attorney Bevis Schock represents a client in a pending case that challenges an outdoor smoking ban. He argued that smoking is a “fundamental right” and policies like the UC smoking ban are impractical and unjust.
“When you start stripping people’s liberties at this level, there’s really no limit to the infringements of freedom,” Schock said.
In addition, Schock said the health risk of occasional exposure to second-hand smoke outdoors is negligible and does not merit such harsh restrictions. He also said that the UC smoking ban unfairly forces smokers to walk long distances off-campus to find a place to smoke.
Fong responded to critics by saying that the UC system has the right as an institution to create rules and regulations that serve to benefit the community.
“If people don’t like those rules and regulations, you have the choice of not going to school here or not working here,” Fong said. “We’re not trying to force people to stop smoking and we’re not trying to tell people what to do in their private lives…we’re building a culture of health and wellness.”
ALL CRIME AND NO PUNISHMENT
Because enforcement of the smoking ban will vary from campus to campus and will focus on promoting health rather than punishing offenders, many students question whether smokers will actually change their current behavior and follow the new policy.
So far, the UC administrations have not actively implemented any aspects of the policy or outlined plans for the two-year transition.
“As far as I know, this is all just talk,” Amato said.
UC officials have said that punishment is not the main objective of the ban, but repeat offenders will face consequences. Specific methods of enforcement and punishment have yet to be decided, but the UC system does not plan on using harsh punitive measures against those who violate the ban.
“They’ll be handed a little card with information on where they can seek help and get information about the dangers of smoking,” Gracie Crickette, UC chief risk officer, said to UC Santa Barbara’s weekly newspaper The Bottom Line.
Fong said that the ban was primarily created in order to encourage students to live smoke-free lifestyles, not to target smokers.
“For the larger campus, it’s not about enforcement so much as it is about education and awareness,” Fong said. “The goal isn’t to [eliminate the presence of smoking so that] not a single cigarette butt is on campus; that’s just not realistic. The goal is more trying to maintain as much of a smoke-free environment as possible.”
Fong also said that if a smoker refuses to obey campus security, he or she could potentially face more serious consequences, like monetary fines.
However, UCLA sophomore Crystal Deedas said that she doesn’t think these methods of enforcement will be enough.
“I see people riding their bikes all the time through no-bike zones. I don’t know how effective [the ban] is going to be,” Deedas said. “I think there might be a couple more signs, but I don’t think there’s going to be much of a difference.”
Taylor also said he doubts that smoking bans will discourage college students from smoking.
“College is really a time for experimentation, and that’s just the way it is,” he said. “I think [smoking bans are] unrealistic. Even if it gets passed on paper, I don’t think all of the students will follow.”
Matthias Frigant, a French exchange student at UCLA, is a longtime smoker but said he supports the ban. Smoking was recently outlawed in bars and restaurants in France. According to Matthias, anti-smoking laws in France are effective because offenders must pay high monetary fines.
“It’s a good thing, because people don’t have to be bothered by us smokers, so we can just figure out other ways to smoke or gather to smoke. I don’t think it’s an infringement. It can help people to [be healthier],” Frigant said.