Is a smoke-free campus the new norm?
Tobacco in the United States may be going up in a puff of smoke. In 2008, 166 colleges and universities in the United States legislated and enforced a tobacco ban. By the beginning of this year, that number had nearly tripled to 466 schools employing a ban.
The trend has been widely visible. According to the best practices mentality pervading a variety of social institutions, countless schools, parks, businesses and even municipalities have introduced recent tobacco bans.
According to Reuters, half of all states and the District of Columbia have legislated state or local smoking bans.
The report also said, “If trends continue, the nation could be 100 percent smoke-free by 2020.”
Smoking is still commonplace in many academic institutions and areas of the country. Generally, southern states have been more resistant to comprehensive smoking bans, but even they are showing signs of appeasing the smoke-free crowd.
From coast to coast, smoking bans have been successfully enacted. Colleges and universities of all stripes have instituted bans that cover every inch of their campuses, from dormitories and dining halls to pathways and parking lots. Among the schools with comprehensive bans are Stanford Medical School, Washington University and Brigham Young, as well as large state schools like the University of Michigan, the University of Florida and the University of Texas. In Iowa, all public and private academic institutions are smokeless.
Especially with the increase in smoke-free schools, the issue has been appearing with increasing frequency on the radar of schools around the country. Healthy habit task forces and anti-smoking activists have ramped up efforts to introduce new tobacco bans.
Naturally, such efforts please many, but frustrate a large number of students and prospective students, potentially threatening enrollment and perceptions of student freedom. Not only do smoking bans affect students, smokers and non-smokers alike, but they also affect faculty and staff, many of whom feel strongly about the issue as well.
Gauging the response to potential bans is a difficult task. The objections are many, and students and staff often have strong feelings about such drastic and overarching policy changes.
Possible claims among resistors are various, as are responses to them. Probably the most prominent objection to tobacco bans is the claim that such a ban is an infringement on rights.
Defenders of the ban simply respond by noting that academic institutions are fully within their rights to implement smoking bans, especially when the campus is considered private property. Already, numerous schools restrict alcohol use on campus, even to those of legal drinking age, and the number of schools already enforcing a ban obligates recognition of some legitimacy and the legal precedent.
Another common objection is in the accurate acknowledgment that compelling people to stop smoking is far less easy to do in practice than it is to talk about behind closed administrative doors. What does a campus-wide smoking band mean for those who cannot or will not kick the habit?
To this objection, proponents argue both that times are changing and that, generally, there are places off-campus where smoking is permissible, oftentimes in designated areas or, minimally, in private homes.
A third protest to tentative bans comes regarding enforcement. How can campus-wide policies of this nature be successfully enforced? The difficulty in compelling students to abide by such regulations is easily apparent in both the regularity of prohibited activities on college campuses and the willingness of enforcers to overlook these instances of fairly harmless disobedience.
The answer to enforcement is often campus accountability and the construction of a culture of health. Nevertheless, more direct enforcement would likely be needed in the form of campus safety, local police, or minimally, RAs who have the authority and ability to enforce bans.
From just these few objections, the difficulties in determining the need for and the implementation and enforcement of a tobacco ban are complex. For those in favor of a ban, however, the difficulties are worth the rewards. And for smokers and non-smokers alike, it’s an important detail to keep in mind when hunting for the right college.