Body Blog: Smoking Bans on Campus

Thinking about lighting up? At about 530 colleges nationwide, you’ll have to step off campus. Over the past few years, more and more schools have started to implement smoking bans, and 120 campuses have been added to the smoke-free list in the past year alone.

Smoke-free advocates hail these changes as major advancements for student health. But others aren’t convinced, and smoking bans have become a controversial issue on many college campuses.

Everyone has heard about the dangers of secondhand smoke, and this is one of the major reasons for campus smoking bans. Advocates argue that it isn’t fair for students who choose not to smoke to be exposed to harmful cigarette smoke by other members of their community. But recently, the focus of many schools has turned to eliminating students’ smoking habits entirely.

For example, the University of Kentucky put in place a campus-wide smoking ban in 2009. At the time, the state of Kentucky had one of the highest smoking rates in the country, at 25.6%. The ban was protested by some students in a “smoke-out,” but went into effect despite opposition. And the University of Kentucky says that their program works. In 2008, before the ban went into effect, 33 people enrolled in a program on campus to help them quit smoking.

One year after the policy was enforced, that number rose to 146. UK does not penalize students for smoking. Instead, volunteers simply remind smokers of the ban and ask them to put out their cigarettes. The school also sells nicotine gum and patches to make visiting smokers feel more comfortable.

But opponents to the ban point out that smoking is a personal choice, and say that a university has no right to interfere with students’ personal decisions. Another obvious counter argument is the fact that smoke-free campuses may not stop students from smoking – it may just force them to take their habit elsewhere. Some say that educational programs dealing with the dangers of smoking may be more effective than outright smoking bans. But would students really listen?

My own school, Columbia University, banned smoking within 20 feet of all campus buildings last year. The policy was intensely debated, with many of our University Senators arguing for a full ban, and several others arguing against smoking restrictions of any kind. The 20-foot ban is rarely enforced here, and virtually nothing has changed since the resolution was passed. But our neighbors across the street, Barnard College, implemented a total smoking ban last year. From what I can see, their ban has been effective, as I have not seen a single smoker on Barnard’s campus since the policy went into effect. But the question is: did students actually stop smoking, or do they just smoke out on the street now?

What do you think? Is it fair for a college to ban smoking on campus? Does your college have a smoking ban in place? Do you think it works? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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