So the UMD has decided to bam smoking on the entire campus. My understanding of smoking bans is that the reason is not due to (say) the obnoxiousness of smokers, or cigarette butt litter, but rather due to issues regarding the dangers of secondhand smoke.

I double-checked my memory, and was correct: the vast majority of literature describing ill effects from secondhand smoke is about a repeated or continuous exposure: a non-smoking spouse of a smoker, or nonsmoking workers in a smoky bar. While there are many statements about there being “no safe level of exposure”, the same can be said for gasoline fumes or car exhaust, and yet cars are not being banned from public places, so there is something more at work here.

I wrote before about the damage alcohol on campus does – it’s implicated in the overwhelming majority of sexual assaults, and there are a number of people who directly die from alcohol poisoning each year – as compared with smoking-related deaths, which tend to be delayed and indirect.

There is something to be said for the straightforwardness of a direct ban: this effectively means that smokers can’t live on campus, but the administration can’t be accused of sending mixed messages. It’s definitely irritating and nannyish, but there is at least a fig leaf of public health interest here. The curious thing to me is this: why tobacco and not alcohol? The public health impacts of alcohol on campus vastly outweigh the effects of smoking (and given that smokers were already not allowed near entrances, the effects were surely minimized), and the people harmed by alcohol on campus are very often the minor students for whom the university is acting in loco parentis.

Now, the above is a rhetorical question: I know that college sports apparently require booze, and alumni would not stand for a ban. Apparently sports at UMD require rioting as well, and the halfhearted efforts to ban that have been as effective as half-measures usually are. It’s worth noting, however, that refocusing the puritanical instinct in this case could actually make the environment on campus better for women and for those who feel pressured to conform. As it stands, I doubt that this smoking ban will actually change any outcomes.


About thegameiam
I'm a network engineer, musician, and Orthodox Jew who opines on things which cross my path.

One Response to Priorities

  1. Tal Kerem says:

    It’s even worse if you are discussing only outdoor exposure to secondhand smoke, for which there is no evidence that the duration of outdoor exposure in places where people can move about freely is long enough to cause substantial health damage. More succinctly, bans on outdoor smoking have no scientific basis.

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