Friday, March 13, 2009

Cornell University Considering Complete Ban On Campus Smoking in Order to Have a Safer and Healthier Environment to Work In

According to an article in the Cornell Daily Sun, campus anti-smoking advocates and the local American Cancer Society are supporting a push to ban smoking on the entire campus. The university's current policy already bans smoking in all buildings, including residence halls, and within 25 feet of any building.

According to the article: "Discussion about making Cornell a smoke free campus was recently proposed to the University Assembly by Beth McKinney, employee elected trustee and director of the Cornell Wellness Program. McKinney said that she proposed the idea to the U.A. because the employee assembly had received several suggestions, prompting them to put it on their list of possible projects. The U.A. agreed that it was an interesting topic for discussion, but has not yet made any concrete plans. According to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation’s website, as of Jan. 4 there were at least 260 colleges and universities around the country that have gone smoke free, including numerous colleges and universities in New York: Cazenovia College, D’Youville College, Maria College, State University of New York-Buffalo, SUNY-Upstate Medical University and Wells College. McKinney said that there would be challenges if Cornell instituted this policy that these other colleges did not face. 'Most of the schools that have gone smoke free are much smaller than Cornell,' McKinney said, noting how Cornell’s size would make instituting the policy very difficult to enforce. ... McKinney, however, explained the benefits of enacting this policy regardless of the challenges. The data suggests smoke free campuses increase the health of the on-campus population."

The expansion of the no-smoking policy to include the entire campus is being supported by the local American Cancer Society, whose director for strategic health alliances was quoted in the article as stating: "We would love to work with [the University]. We would help them in crafting a policy, setting up a timeline, and providing adequate training for supervisory staff that will have to enforce the policy. It should not be promoted as negative. It should be promoted as wanting people to have a cleaner, healthier, safer environment to work in — we know you are valuable resources and we want to protect that."

The Rest of the Story

For those who have never been to Cornell, it is a very widespread and somewhat rural campus with lots of open space. There is absolutely no need to ban smoking throughout the entire campus in order to adequately protect nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke.

As my regular readers know, while I support banning smoking indoors, I do not believe all-out smoking bans on college campuses are warranted, because in outdoors locations people are free to avoid the exposure. This is especially true of a campus environment like that at Cornell.

So the question becomes: what is the rationale for a complete smoking ban on the Cornell campus, it it's not to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke exposure?

From the article, it appears that the anti-smoking advocates are considering doing this simply because "everybody else is." And the American Cancer Society is supporting it because it will create a "safer and healthier" environment. But if the problem is not secondhand smoke exposure, then how is it a safer and healthier environment if smokers are forced to go off campus to smoke? Making smokers walk down the hill into the town to smoke doesn't make the campus safer. Smokers are not endangering anyone else if they are not exposing them to secondhand smoke.

Thus, the issue comes down to lifestyle control. It is a coercive intervention that is unduly paternalistic. If that's acceptable, then what is the justification for allowing alcohol use on the campus? Alcohol use is arguably a far greater health and safety problem on the campus. It would truly make the campus a safer and healthier environment to eliminate all alcohol use. But I don't sese the health advocates pushing for that. It is only smoking that is an intolerable unhealthy behavior. All other unhealthy behaviors are tolerable.

In other words, I am asking whether what we are truly seeing here is health promotion, or whether it is actually intolerance for a particular lifestyle decision.

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