Yesterday's Minneapolis Star-Tribune features an article on the increasing trend of complete smoking bans on college campuses. Instead of just banning smoking inside buildings and a reasonable distance outside the entrances, an increasing number of colleges are banning smoking completely on their campuses, even in remote outdoors locations where nonsmokers do not congregate or have to pass through.
In the article, anti-smoking advocates praise these measures and argue that they are justified because they are necessary to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke exposure. According to the article: "Many anti-smoking advocates are cheering the trend as a natural progression in the movement to protect people from second-hand smoke. Today's 18-year-olds grew up supporting smoke-free spaces, surveys show. 'Even five years ago, I was shocked at the thought of it [a ban],' said Katherine Morris, director of health services at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, which banished smoking last year. 'More people are saying that it's just not OK to have to live in somebody else's smoke.'"
In the article, one anti-smoking advocate speaks out against these measures: "Dr. Michael Siegel, professor at Boston University School of Public Health, has studied and testified in favor of smoking bans in bars and restaurants and considers himself "a strong anti-smoking advocate." But campus-wide bans "just do not make sense to me," he said. "They're not about protecting nonsmokers' health. They're about trying to change people's lifestyles. And that's a line which I don't think is appropriate to cross."
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The arguments of the anti-smoking advocates supporting these measures just do not make sense. Of course I agree that nonsmokers should not have to breathe in tobacco smoke. However, there is no need to ban smoking entirely on a campus to achieve that purpose. You can't tell me that the real purpose of a campus-wide smoking ban is to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke. Whether conscious or not, I believe the real purpose is to protect nonsmokers from even having to see a smoker.
What is interesting is that in this article, the anti-smoking advocate who is quoted does not even advance the argument that the campus smoking ban is intended to promote health on campus (i.e., to encourage smokers to quit). Clearly then, some logic is missing in the argument. How do you get from a need to protect nonsmokers to a need to ban smoking entirely on the campus, even in remote [from buildings] outdoors locations?
It seems to me that the way you get there is the unconscious desire to protect nonsmokers from having to even see a smoker. It's not the smoke that these policies protect nonsmokers from, it's the smoker.
These policies go too far. They do cross the line and they do represent an unwarranted intrusion into individual autonomy.
Anti-smoking groups should re-think their support of these policies. But of course, they won't. In tobacco control, policies do not need to be justified.