UNM's Smoking Ban, or How to Lose Students and Alienate Community

In the Albuquerque Journal this morning, there was an article discussing the new smoking bans on the University of New Mexico campus. Here's a map of the designated smoking areas with perhaps the best one-sentence summary of the issue. Initially, it is easy to sympathize with the college - in an ideal world, no one ever dies of lung cancer from second hand smoke, and that's a noble aim. But noble aims go pear shaped all the time.

When I was a high schooler, I helped engineer and pass a ban on smoking at Unitarian Universalist youth conferences in my district. I'd lost a grandparent to lung cancer not long before. I was no fan of smoking, and high school conferences had previously had a problem of an exclusive community of smokers existing. That in turn led to people who wanted to spend time with their friends either breathing a lot of second hand smoke or starting smoking themselves, both of which are far from ideal for a religious youth conference. On top of it all, UUs tend to have a high ratio of asthmatics/those with breathing problems, and smoke itself was a hazard for them. So many of us moved to pass a ban by majority vote. We succeeded.

What happened, then, was a lot of destruction. Con-goers who smoked would come with their addiction, but being high schoolers, without the income to have nicotine gum or patches instead of cigarettes. Or they would sneak off to try and calm their addiction so they could be present for community, and we'd ban them from coming back. A few youth, in the middle of high school, just stopped coming to cons outright, feeling unwelcome and hated by their peers. It was against the spirit of the community, and the values of the religion, and the ban remains to this day. It is by far the most lasting decision I had made as part of that community, and it causes harm. What it doesn't do is get people to stop smoking. Our noble aim failed utterly.

The ban didn't actually address any real problems. It was a prohibition, and it attempted to excise a behavior. Had we been concerned about the health of the asthmatics, we would have kept smoking outside and away from entryways. Had we been concerned about the health of smokers, we could have provided nicotine patches for them, and let them still be part of our community. And had we cared for the whole of the community, we would have enacted a policy by a system of consensus, not a majority vote, and certainly not by a handed-down ruling. We did none of this, and instead shifted problems around. We lost people, we made others feel uncomfortable, and we violated our own principles.

The UNM smoking ban is well-intentioned. But it is a frustrating prohibition forced upon legal adults, and it goes beyond necessary restriction (like 30 feet from entryways) to become an obsessive nanny state policy. And it might ultimately have the desired effect, but I still feel that it shows a disregard for the capacity of adults to make personally responsible choices. Part of giving people freedom, and giving people responsibility, is giving room for mistakes. Here, I think, it'd do well to quote Lux Alptraum:
And this is, perhaps, the crux of a progressive discourse: to be able to recognize the reality and rationale of bad decisions, while still pushing forward with an idea of what we all should be doing, of what our best decisions look like. Because it’s only with the knowledge of what we should be doing, and why, that we have the ability to stray safely — to make those mistakes and live to regret them (or not regret them, as the case may be).
In order to be rational people, we have to have that range of decision making. Forcing people's decisions simply doesn't work.

Views: 283

Comment by SteveJ on August 1, 2009 at 10:01pm
Its been frustrating not to be able to walk across campus and inhale fresh air. This measure also has supporting material to help addicted adults quit, and improve their health. I think its a great approach.
Comment by Zurii Hall on August 1, 2009 at 10:40pm
Truthfully SteveJ I doubt that smokers have been a huge inconvenience. Any adult who is smoking on campus has the right to do so and from what I've seen everyone is pretty respectful. Unless you've literally been subjected to smoke being blown in your face I don't see why this is such a big win for you.
Comment by SteveJ on August 1, 2009 at 10:44pm
I guess cigarettes have a much more recognizable impact on the quality of air space. I am trying to think of a good comparison for describing what its like to walk through a plume of somebody's cigarette smoke. Here is one: It would be like me walking around with a bottle of mosquito repellent and just spraying it at will in your area. Smoke is a little less wet I guess.
Comment by Kelsey D. Atherton on August 1, 2009 at 10:49pm
The thing is, there is a way to share all of the outdoors with smokers that doesn't involve walking through smoke plumes. I put up with cars in my city, but I don't place my mouth next to their exhaust pipes. So long as smokers are far from entryways, like 30 feet far, there is no plume of smoke one has to walk through. It is mildly inconvenient to walk around them in the open, but it is not unavoidable.

Smokers are not performing an act of malice standing out in the open. If they are by doors, they are thoughtless, but it is not deliberate spite. It is a personal choice.
Comment by SteveJ on August 1, 2009 at 11:03pm
I walk through Zimmerman library on a daily basis, and there are constantly people smoking next to those doors. There is also a librarian who regularly stands next to Parish Library reading a book and smoking when I go in there. I guess if people did smoke 30 feet away from doorways that would work for me. I guess a few bad smokers have tarnished my view of the activity.
Comment by JMG on August 2, 2009 at 2:12am
I don't know where the Allowed-To-Smoke areas are on-campus, but I hope there are some for people who smoke so they won't feel too vilified. I do wish smoking would be banned in outdoor cafes though, as smokers tend to congregate there, making it impossible for the rest of us to enjoy our meals outside.
I have also recently joined the obnoxious people (well, I thought they were obnoxious until I became one) who would love to see more workplace policies in place to stop employees from wearing perfume and scented hairspray in workplaces where we can't open the windows. I have developed a sinus condition that gets horribly aggravated by smoke and the smell of perfumes, perfumed hand lotions, etc. So far, co-workers have thought I was joking when I asked them not to come into my office if they're wearing perfume.

Okay, sorry to change the subject.
Comment by Patti March on August 2, 2009 at 11:15am
I am allergic to perfume and it bugs me so I think it should be banned everywhere! Seriously, I believe in the right to choose for adults. Outdoor smoking should be allowed. The 20 foot rules and no smoking in cars are made by those fanatical groups who wish to control everyone else around them.
Comment by Stephanie on August 2, 2009 at 11:19am
I'm glad for the ban. As a pretty severe asthmatic, I can tell you that having smoke blown my way through doorways where smokers used to congregate took its tool. I don't care if cigarette addicts want to destroy their own lungs but they don't have the right to make UNM a smelly and more unhealthy place to breathe for everybody else. The second your bad habits affects other people, your rights are trumped.
Comment by JMG on August 2, 2009 at 11:37am
Unlike perfume, smoking is an addiction. I don't know why anybody needs to wear perfume to work. It's not just an allergy; I get a sinus headache that's like a migraine if they come into my tiny office that has no access to fresh air. Back to smoking; it's not easy for people to quit. If it is banned everywhere, people will smoke illegally. So there need to be places where smoking is allowed and access to programs and aids (which I think there is) to help people quit. The reason for the 20 foot rule is that, without this rule, smokers congregate just outside doorways to smoke-free buildings and we have to walk through their cloud to get in.

People always protest when laws are instituted to control human behavior. But there is evidence that when you start with a law, social norms follow. Seatbelts are an example. Most people don't even think about it when they buckle up now. If there hadn't been a law, this wouldn't have become an automatic practice for a lot of people. Hopefully talking on the cell phone while driving will follow.

Just call me Singapore-Jill
Comment by M.J. Williams on August 2, 2009 at 1:29pm
I attended UNM for 6 years, I am glad that during that time I had the freedom to smoke wherever on campus I chose. I was a courteous smoker, I only smoked quite a fair distance away from the doorways and entrances to buildings on campus. I think its a shame but I understand even as a proud smoker that "fresh air" is necessary, I don not support UNM's Nazi-esque tactics. Providing certain "areas" to smoke will surely be a nice place to be and chat with other smokers. However, the unfair discrimation of smokers is both foolish and unnecessary but that's just my two cents.


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