Tobacco-free campus would create more problems

A campus with a tobacco ban is a utopia to some. To others, it’s the worst idea imaginable. After St. Kate’s campus-wide tobacco ban, there has been a lot of talk about how St. Thomas would benefit from a similar policy.

Smoking Sign
St. Catherine University became the second school to ban tobacco on campus. (Dan Cook/TommieMedia)

The idea of a tobacco-free campus may seem appealing, but the fantasy could quickly turn into a nightmare. As the saying goes, “When people are told they can’t do something, it only makes them want to do it more.”

Though I do not smoke or use tobacco, I am still wary of banning tobacco products on campus. Banning a product on campus – a product that is legal outside of school – will cause more problems than it solves.

If tobacco was banned on campus, it would place a larger burden on people who smoke than most people realize. The consequences of this could even potentially rub off on people who don’t smoke.

Smokers would have to go off campus to smoke a cigarette if tobacco were banned. Who would want to walk off campus, especially in the winter, to smoke? My guess is practically no one.

Having to go off campus to use tobacco products makes it more likely that people will violate another policy: smoking in the residence halls.

There is no way to smoke in a dorm room without the smell of tobacco wafting down the entire hall. In that instance, not only would the person smoking be inconvenienced, but the community he or she lives in would be bothered as well.

A different perspective

For somebody who doesn’t smoke, it is easy to get on board with the idea of a tobacco ban. But take a second to rethink the idea of a ban as a form of punishment.

Yes, there are people who do not strictly follow the 30-foot rule while smoking outside of buildings, but there are people who do. Should every person who uses tobacco, including those who follow the rules, be punished?

Let’s look at a similar situation through a different lens. People who drink under the age of 21 are definitely breaking the law as well as campus rules. People who smoke directly next to a building on campus are definitely breaking campus rules as well.

Would it make sense to enact an alcohol ban on campus and punish people who follow the alcohol policy, simply because others violate the policy? I am positive a large percentage of students would be upset if this happened.

Banning tobacco on campus would punish those who follow the rules as well. Though only 17.7 percent of students smoke on this campus, according to a 2007 St. Thomas core survey, that is still a large community to consider.

A possible solution

Why not keep the idea of alcohol violations in mind for tobacco use as well? If people are violating policy by smoking in prohibited areas, then punish those individuals, rather than that entire community.

Enacting a strict punishment for those who violate a smoking policy would help control the problem of too many people smoking too close to buildings. Doing something to directly control that problem won’t unfairly inconvenience people who do follow the campus policies, and is a better solution than banning tobacco completely.

Gina Dolski can be reached at

21 Replies to “Tobacco-free campus would create more problems”

  1. Ideally, UST should punish those that violate the smoking policy. In practice that seems impossible to do. The current policy is unenforced and quite flawed. I understand that this is an opinion piece, but the amount of rhetoric used to make a point does not have a sound basis, logically speaking.

    Appealing to an unrealistic alternative doesn’t make the ban any less viable as an option. If smokers choose to smoke in their rooms they do more than just bother their community they’ve created a potential fire hazard. This extraordinary measure should not be a consideration in the banning discussion. 

    I’d like to claim I sympathize with the smoker’s plight, especially those that stay more than 30 feet away, but I don’t. Their carcinogenic exhalations convenience no one, but themselves (arguably not even themselves). Every night, if I want to inhale second hand smoke all I have to do is open my window. A situation not unique to me.

    We should also do away with the physically taxing argument of walking off campus. The distance from north to south campus far exceeds the distance necessary to get off campus. 

    Lastly, the transgressions of others often affect the individual. UST’s room sovereignty policy for instance.  

  2. Substitute “tobacco” with “alcoholic beverages” in the above article, and see how it reads. Are those who are 21 or older allowed to consume alcohol on campus? Are male & female students allowed to co-habitate in the dormitories? Certainly, there is no public law on the books to prevent such personal choices. UST can take a step forward in the world by banning tobacco on campus. Smoking is an unhealthful & unnecessary habit. Part of education is setting standards to be followed, be they academic, behavioral or health-related.

  3. Haven’t heard any complaints about smoke-less tobacco..St. Thomas could not even possibly enforce an all out tobacco ban because of chewing tobacco. It would be impossible.

  4. It amazes me to come across individuals with such a narrow perspective on life that they’re openly willing to engage in such a consideration. Yes smoking is extraordinarily detrimental to your health and to some not necessary. Take into account those that do smoke; who honeslty believes that any smoker wishes harm upon their body? People begin to smoke for a variety of reasons, the idea that “smoking is cool” is far overused when analyzing one’s decision to start. Studies show that stress, especially in a college setting is the #1 reason students engage in the act. There is a lot that comes along with receiving a good education from St. Thomas, difficult coursework and a high tuition rate to finance. If a student wished to indulge in the act of smoking for personal reasons, who are you to tell them no?
    I do agree however, there needs to be regulations enforced for those who make the choice and I feel the suggested solution above is a step in the right direction.

  5. “UST can take a step forward in the world by banning tobacco on campus. Smoking is an unhealthful & unnecessary habit.”

    I don’t think anyone would argue with you, Don, that smoking is unhealthful, it’s certainly been drummed incessantly into my head and those also of my generation from birth.  I just don’t think that it is the job of the University to ban anything that might be unhealthful.  Driving a vehicle is statistically not very good for your health either, you risk collisions that could seriously injure yourself or others.  Vehicles produce emissions that smell bad and can damage the environment and the health of others.  Should they be banned from campus as well?  What about alcoholic beverages?  They can impair judgement, introducing increased potential for personal endangerment and the endangerment of others.  Should we ban those from campus altogether?  I’m not trying to be dramatic here, I just don’t believe that a behavior or object should be banned simply on the grounds of whether it is healthy or not.

  6. The difficulties of walking off campus might not be a valid point- but how about the effect on neighborhood relations?

  7. I think it’s important to distinguish the difference between a “tobacco-free” campus and a “smoke-free” campus. USG is only considering the feasibility of a “smoke-free” campus. There’s no way we could stop people from chewing tobacco. I was reminded why I’m in favor of a smoking ban just today as I was on my way to and from class on south campus. Both ways I walked today I was stuck behind a smoker. I don’t have any anger towards those who smoke. I understand it’s a personal choice and it’s their right. I would just like to see them take that activity away from students on campus. This should be a healthy environment that we promote. In the end our leaders on campus obviously need to take a practical approach to this idea. A ban certainly shouldn’t take place overnight. All sides need to be heard first.

  8. “The difficulties of walking off campus might not be a valid point- but how about the effect on neighborhood relations?

    “That’s a great point Kathryn. Could you imagine how many smokers would be conjugating just across Selby Ave away from N. campus alone? I can just see groups of smokers going out together and standing near a neighbor’s home where they are disturbing neighbors. UST would simply be moving the issue of public smoking elsewhere, not resolving it. I have a handful of friends that are smokers that go to Iowa State University where they have a smoking ban. It’s sometimes enforced, but overall an enormous joke. My ISU friends have shared stories with me of the people who did rarely get approached for smoking, simply ran away from campus security when they were asked for their ID’s. Smokers will be smokers, and the more you push them not to smoke the more they will rebel. Perhaps, a compromise could work such as designating specific smoking areas.

  9. Trevor- I think that’s a good suggestion, particularly because most of the issue seems to hinge on the fact that many smokers are bothering other folks by standing too close to high traffic areas, and yet the vast majority of ash trays on campus are right where people don’t want smokers smoking (i.e. right next to building entry ways).

  10. Gina, this is a very worthwhile article, good work. I struggle to see the benefit of banning something that in my opinion has had no substantial effect on our community. When thinking about the affect of a ban, I don’t usually think about other students, they are few and far between. I usually think about what a ban would mean for building service workers, campus employees, guests, parents, and professors. What happens when an employee whom has been working on campus for 15 years needs to go out for their 5 minute smoke break, but now needs to treck “somewhere” else to do so? I write “somewhere” because I struggle to think of any surrounding area that would be convenient. Where would the butts end up? Certainly not in any type of designated cigarette can. I rarely have an opinion about campus policy, but this one seems so obvious to me. I don’t see a problem that needs to be solved. Unless someone can convince me of any real benefits a smoke free policy would provide to the campus community as a whole [inside and out], we should leave this “issue” alone.

  11. Your arguments don’t make any sense and are not enough to hold any weight. I”m appalled an opinion piece this underdeveloped is on a news website.

  12. Good article. *Possibly* the best opinion piece I’ve read on TM, actually.

    It’s an interesting issue, because it isn’t a morals issue and it isn’t a rights issue. Smokers don’t have an absolute right to smoke, but, at the same time, non-smokers don’t have an absolute right to be free of it. Going smoke-free is not some bold step on the road to a progressivist health utopia. Conversely, going smoke-free is not the beginning of a slippery slope to fascist oppression. Our policy here just weighs competing interests and goes with the best solution for the most people. In a world where it seems like EVERY issue is black-and-white, this is rather refreshing.

    Given Gina’s arguments, and the damage a ban could do to neighbor relations, Trevor’s compromise — easily enforced, DESIGNATED smoking areas away from buildings and set up with all the necessary smoker gear — makes the most sense. Let’s do that, and if it fails due to smoker intransigence we can resurrect talk of a ban.

  13. It’s a classic liberal move to think you should be allowed to make people’s decisions for them and control their lives.  Let’s start by saying that EVERYBODY knows smoking is bad.  Ask any smoker, and they will tell you it’s bad.  Last time I checked, UST was located in America, so they use their freedom (liberals hate freedom) and they decide to do it anyways.  Smoking is a choice, and people are free to make their own choices.  If we’re so concerned with other’s health, maybe we should ask UST to ban pop, and french fries as well.  Both of those are highly associated with health risks.

  14. In respone to John’s claim that I did not elaborate enough I woul like to point out that Gina cited only one fact in her entire piece (the St. Thomas CORE poll). A statistic that might I say was from two years ago so it would encompass only about 50% of this year’s student population. Also, Gina made some fairly big leaps when she cited the consequences of a smoking ban. If she is going to make such big jums sheshuld probably hae some research to back up what she claims would happen. Things like it would make more people smoke in the residence halls. Also, the comparison between tobacco users and alcohol users is a little thin. I would argue that the comparison is not valid because while tobacco can have negative health effects on others. Alcohol only hurts the person using it.

  15. Mark, you’re being silly. I’m about as liberal as they come at UST, and I’m arguing against the smoking ban. This is not about liberals versus conservatives.

  16. Katie,
    I disagree with your statement that tobacco only, not alcohol has the potential to harm the person using it.  It is estimated that out of all driving-related deaths in the US, over a third involved alcohol use by one of the parties involved.  So there does exist the potential for alcohol to harm other people.  I’m certainly not saying we should ban alcohol on campus because of potential consequences, I’m saying that the comparison between alcohol use and tobacco use does have some validity to it.  Also, we have to remember that we’re debating the usage of smoked tobacco outdoors.  (I for one would be incensed if Saint Thomas allowed smoking indoors)   Tobacco smoke dissipates into the atmosphere very quickly, so you’re not exactly going to get lung cancer from breathing a miniscule amount when you’re walking back and forth to class.

  17. Following up on Katie, I’m as conservative as they come at UST, and I’m (tepidly) in favor of the smoking ban. The individual autonomy of the smoker does not give them a right to subject *other* people to their smoke (which is probably not unhealthy, but which *is* extremely irritating and smelly). Any true conservative will recognize the community co-equal rights in this matter immediately.

    Moreover, any American conservative recognizes the right of the local polity to regulate or abolish substances or behaviours that highly correlate to individual self-harm — it is not liberalism (with its paramount concern for the needs of the collective and the State), but conservatism, with its paramount respect for the dignity of human life, which consistently stands up for (for example) anti-suicide laws. Conservatism does not stand *only* for liberty. Conservatism stands for all three of John Locke’s inalienable rights: life, liberty, *and* property. The philosophy of governance Mark proposes is neither liberal nor conservative; it is merely callous.

    This last part is not strictly relevant to the proposed smoking ban, but I thought it important to address Mark’s misuse of conservative principles.

  18. …. anti-suicide laws? If someone wants to kill themselves, they do. I honestly don’t think they care about the laws.

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