Tuesday, January 17, 2012

College Anti-Smoking Advocates in Florida Admit that Tobacco-Free Campus Policies are Not About Protecting People from Secondhand Smoke

According to an article in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, several colleges and universities in Florida have banned, or are gearing up to ban, all smoking on campus grounds, even in private vehicles.

According to the article: "If you smoke, you may be breathing less easily on college campuses these days. Looking for the designated smoking area at Florida International University? There is none. Want to light a cigarette inside your car at the University of Florida? Don't let the cops see you. Hoping to smoke during your break at Nova Southeastern University? You have six months left until NSU becomes the latest college to go tobacco-free. Come July 1, the covered smoking benches will come down and smoke-free-campus signs will go up."

When questioned about whether banning smoking even in private vehicles where no one would be exposed to secondhand smoke was going too far, the chief advocate for the campus smoking ban at Nova Southeastern University said that extending the smoking ban to private vehicles was important to send the right message: "'We don't want your car to be a safe haven, where you do any activity you want as long as you're in your car,' he said."

According to an article in the Current, Nova Southeastern University newspaper: "Patricia Kelly, associate professor, director and doctor of the Health Science Program in the Health Professions Division, said, “Secondhand smoke has been proven to be dangerous in a number of instances. Eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke is important for many people with chronic pulmonary (lung) problems, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.” Kelly believes that the policy will also help by distancing smokers from nonsmokers, which will prevent others from picking up the habit. “Students who do not see their peers smoke, either in public or in private, are less likely to start smoking themselves,” she said."

The Rest of the Story

In my view, the purpose of smoking bans is to protect the public from the significant hazards associated with exposure to secondhand smoke. If we start deviating from that message, by suggesting that the actual purpose is to protect nonsmokers from even having to see a smoker in a public place, then we risk undermining the rationale, justification, and support for these much-needed public policies that protect the public from the morbidity and mortality associated with what is often involuntary tobacco smoke exposure.

The rest of the story is that health advocates in Florida are admitting that the rationale for complete campus smoking bans goes far beyond the protection of the public from secondhand smoke. These advocates are admitting that these policies are paternalistic. That is, they are intended to protect smokers from themselves. Second, the advocates are admitting that their intention is to protect nonsmokers from even having to see smokers, thus reducing the chances that other people will start smoking.

The logical extension of such a rationale, if it were justified, would be to simply ban all smoking in public. People should only be allowed to smoke in their own homes, if the reasoning being given for these smoke-free college policies is valid.

Clearly, someone who is smoking in his own car is not threatening others with secondhand smoke exposure. Thus, the anti-smoking advocates have long since left the realm of promoting policies to protect the public from secondhand smoke exposure. They are now in the area of paternalistic policy making which aims to segregate and isolate smokers so as to prevent the rest of the public from ever having to see these people.

This is such a far cry from the reasons I went into tobacco control in the first place. It was when I was a medical student and medical intern that I decided to dedicate my career to tobacco control. The impetus was my experience treating diseases caused by smoking and my chief desire was to help my patients who smoked by finding more effective ways of preventing them from suffering the myriad of diseases caused by cigarettes. The idea that one day we would be advocating policies to prevent the public from having to see these people never would have occurred to me.

No comments: