EDITORIAL: OU Board of Regents, vote no on the smoking ban
To the OU Board of Regents:
On Tuesday, you will consider a proposal to enact a campuswide smoking ban on the OU Norman campus. The proposed policy is deeply flawed and would create an unenforceable restriction that disregards students’ right to choose their own lifestyle. We urge you to reject the policy in its current form.
The proposal offers no means of enforcing the ban, other than the hope that those on campus will hold one another accountable. So, it is clear the main benefit of this ban would be to give members of the campus community some authority to ask those around them to stop smoking — and to add the neat “tobacco-free campus” line to OU’s promotional material.
It actually would not eliminate all campus smoking and clearly does not have the power to do so. If this is the case, and the administration knows the proposed policy cannot eliminate all smoking on campus, why not compromise with tobacco users?
Under the current policy, there will be only two areas in which smoking is allowed. These areas, in the parking lots of Lloyd Noble Center and Dale Hall, are both on the south end of campus, far from the buildings that house the majority of campus activity.
Loyd Noble is a five-minute walk from the closest campus building and more than a mile from the South Oval. Though the bus stop and parking facilities there are used by many students, it is still one of the farthest points from students’ daily activities that is still considered part of the main campus. The closer potential smoking area, Dale Hall, is still a mile away from the northernmost building on campus.
Many students and faculty members spend most of their time in or around the one or two buildings that house their department or workplace. Under the current proposed policy, those who spend the majority of their time on the northern end of campus have one option for smoking: crossing over to Campus Corner.
Instead of simply off-loading OU’s smoking problem on the surrounding community, why not create several smoking areas in isolated locations throughout campus? The proposed policy claims the two areas were chosen to “minimize potential exposure to second-hand smoke,” but this concern could still be addressed while taking into account the locations’ accessibility.
There have been no major studies verifying that the effects of secondhand smoke are similar in outdoor environments to those observed indoors. But even so, designated smoking areas could be set off from the main areas of campus to give students the choice of whether to expose themselves to cigarette smoke.
We’ve provided a suggested set of smoking areas for the most heavily trafficked areas of campus that would balance the needs of students who choose to smoke with the need to keep them set off from the main campus population. The spaces we chose are based on areas where students already smoke, many of which were naturally set off from main traffic areas. These areas could be outfitted with more trash receptacles to help insure a reduction of cigarette-related litter.
In addition, the ban only should restrict the use of tobacco products that produce harmful smoke. Other forms of tobacco, which would be restricted under the proposed policy, do not pose a risk to others and should be allowed.
If it is true that this ban is primarily motivated by a wish to reduce the students’ exposure to secondhand smoke and the costs of cleaning campus, this compromise should be perfectly acceptable. If it is not acceptable, it is clear the ban also is motivated by a wish to aggressively persuade students to give up all tobacco use — a goal that grossly oversteps the university’s role.
It is not the university’s place to restrict the legal behavior of autonomous adults simply because the administration finds that behavior distasteful. It has the responsibility to restrict behavior that disrupts the learning environment or puts the campus and those on it in danger. But smoking, in limited and isolated outdoor areas, does none of these things.
In short, students should be well aware of the health risks involved in smoking, especially after this highly public debate over the ban. If they still choose to engage in such behavior, doing so responsibly and away from other students who choose not to smoke, it should be their choice.
This debate comes down to the complex question of balancing the rights of two groups, pitting some students’ right to freely choose their own lifestyle against other students’ right to breathe freely without exposure to secondhand smoke. It is clear both groups have valid claims, and there are no perfect answers in this debate.
But the right answer certainly is not to completely disregard the rights of smokers with only a token and ineffective gesture of compromise.
This issue is not about being for or against smoking. Tobacco use is clearly, undebatably bad for one’s health. But the fact remains that adult citizens should have control over their own health decisions. It is not your, or the administration’s, place to decide that for them.
The proposed policy would go beyond the admirable goal of protecting all students from the unwanted health risks of secondhand smoke to become a vehicle for forcing students to quit smoking. It even includes a mechanism for doing away with the two sole smoking areas after a year, if it is decided that there is no “continued need” for them.
We admire the administration’s enthusiasm in pushing to ensure some action was taken on the issue of tobacco use on campus. It was clear something needed to be done to reduce the amount of secondhand smoke students were forced to encounter on campus.
But this enthusiasm has caused administrators to rush the process of developing the ban, resulting in an imbalanced and poorly thought out policy. This proposal is unacceptable, unenforceable and does a disservice to all members of the university community.
OU can do better. We urge you to vote against this proposal and demand the administration develop a more balanced and effective plan for restricting tobacco use on campus.
The Oklahoma Daily Editorial Board