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: 161

Tags: UNM, health, smoking

Comment by the boy on August 2, 2009 at 6:08pm
The fun thing about processes of majoritarian rule is that minority rights are really, really easy to trample. We voted in the community I mentioned in my personal anecdote, and it failed us spectacularly.

And no, I get it - the point is second hand smoke, the harm is second hand smoke. No one here is saying that an individual isn't allowed to harm themselves. We are all debating how to mitigate harm to non-smokers caused by smokers. I think that second hand smoke can be mitigated without driving smokers out of town. I totally think there are acceptable ways to do that. At our youth conferences, a proposed alternative to a smoking ban was a designated smoking area, limited to 2 people at once, far from entryways. A designated area would have worked fine for such a small community, and because of the short duration of the conference. I think UNM having designated areas is better than prohibition; I don't like their goal of outright prohibition. Also, I really, really, really don't think than the ban will work, because of how unenforceable it is.

Lastly,just because a majority can will something unhumanitarian does not mean that we as people should go along with it. Majority will that overrides minority right is flawed. As I see it, smoking is still a legally permissible activity for adults, and so until that is outright changed, the right for an individual to smoke a cigarette in a way that minimizes harm to others is a minority right. UNM has not decided to change that in a democratic way.

Smoking is a problem, but there are many better solutions than this one.
Comment by JMG on August 2, 2009 at 6:32pm
I don't think smokers should be demonized. I feel for them... if I'd ever started, I'm sure I would be battling with this habit, too. The tobacco industry has a solution, of course... new smokeless nicotine delivery systems that are even worse for the consumers than smoking is. I doubt that second hand smoke inhaled from walking by a smoker at the duck pond has any effect at all on the rest of us. I don't know what the answer is, but UNM needs to be clear about what their goal is and it should be evidence-based.
Comment by JMG on August 2, 2009 at 6:33pm
And speaking of "evidence-based," Granjero: getting wet does not cause somebody to catch a cold. Just had to throw that in.
Comment by Jackson on August 2, 2009 at 9:35pm
"Enforcement of the ban will be limited -- for now -- to moral suasion, peer pressure and being handed flyers by volunteers, according to a report on KOB-TV."

Yea, thats gonna work.

I don't really smoke, and I've never noticed a "cloud of smoke" on campus, so I don't really get the point of this ban. To me its just a bunch of people deciding to follow a trend of banning smoking in public places.
Comment by Barelas Babe on August 2, 2009 at 11:50pm
I'm glad to see that so many smokers are courteous and willing to smoke away from building entrances. I don't like the idea of demonizing smokers, but I do think the public health aspects should be considered. For example, an issue I've noticed at some of my workplaces is smokers smoking next to the building's air intake. I imagine that they are just not aware of it and think that they are in compliance standing away from the doorway (and they may well be), but it would be great if smokers could also look around and check that they are not near the building air intake site.
Comment by JMG on August 3, 2009 at 8:37am
I don't even know what a building air intake mechanism looks like. Sounds like a good place to have a sign.

That being said, at UNM Hospital, patients regularly disregard the no-smoking signs outside the building. My theory is that they are under such stress and feel so powerless, that they feel the need, even more, to smoke and don't care about rules. You will see them near the parking garage; in backless gowns, pushing an IV cart, puffing away. Ya gotta feel for them, but damn.
Comment by once banned twice shy on August 3, 2009 at 9:43am
Rodney brings up a good point: cigarette smokers are allowed to litter freely every day. Not to mention the fire hazard of a burning cigarette butt being thrown out the window here in the arid lands.

But I have a perfect solution for UNM--and any place that wants to outright ban outdoor smoking: build plexiglas boxes for the smokers. They can go outside, stand in the boxes and smoke away. In fact, it could save the smokers some money--if you get a few folks smoking in there you won't have to light up your own cigarette. It could be like a smoker's co-op. Of course, there would have to be a vestibule entry for the smoking box--so that the smoke didn't exit every time a smoker did. I think it's a win-win solution. Smokers get to smoke A LOT--more than just the one cigarette they would have if they were outside alone, and non-smokers avoid walking through clouds of smoke. Or, the other idea is that smokers will all be issued little bubble helmets that will fit over their heads and they will be required to wear said bubble helmet when they smoke. That way their smoke does not enter the atmosphere--and it saves the smoker money, too. Think of all the money they waste just blowing that smoke out and letting the cigarette burn! Again, everyone wins...
Comment by once banned twice shy on August 3, 2009 at 10:00am
Viz: I am kosher,

Where do you get kosher cigarettes?
Comment by Juan on August 3, 2009 at 10:30am
I think UNM is going about this the wrong way. How about an educational initiative first that tackles health problems with smoking as well as educating smokers about how to be more aware of the non-smokers around them.

But they enact a ban in which they have no actual recourse for at this moment. As Jackson noted, UNM officials are wishfully hoping that people call smokers out and peer pressure them to stop smoking on campus. That's not going to work. So judging from these facts, it does seem like UNM jumped the gun in order to enact a ban to make them seem pro-active when, in fact, I"m not sure if this ban will do anything at all.
Comment by Juan on August 3, 2009 at 11:16am
I'm not saying sugar coat it, but from the looks of this forum most think smokers may be clueless as to where they smoke and how it effects others who don't smoke. So let them know about some things they may be unaware of and hope they change their ways (just like we're hoping they'll stop smoking on campus).

Yes, talking about cancer is the best way to get people to stop smoking (I have two friends who stopped when a family member died of lung cancer), yet it definitely seems to be working seeing that the majority of smoker continue to smoke regardless of cancer risks and huge rise in costs of cigarettes. I"d like to see more pics of cancer victims from smoking on packs of cigs like they have it in the UK. So yes more education, especially to younger people who are more easily influenced by fads like smoking, is needed.

And I'm truly aware of the real world, having been working in it for the past 6 years since I've graduated. My main point is that UNM is doing a piss poor job of handling this situation (sounds like a broken record concerning how UNM tends to handles things lately). Is this just another one of those real world rules implemented by UNM that are in place, but yet really are never enforced? Because in my real world those rules only go as far as they are enforced, which is never 100% of the time.

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