The doors open and the chilly air rushes in tainted with tobacco smoke. It is finals week in the Gateway Study Center; home to garish bright lighting, trashcans full of used coffee cups, energy drinks and stressed students. Study sessions at Gateway are not only a finals week ritual, but also a necessity. The hushed murmurs of other students and long hours make it a haven for any college student.
Unfortunately, to get through the double doors one must first pass through the flocks of chain smokers and the billowing clouds of smoke surrounding them. It is the punishment exacted from all those in search of a quiet study area: the forced inhalation of toxic fumes. Increasing one’s risk for lung cancer seems like a bargain – a small price when there are a large amount of facts to cram in short amounts of time. However, why must any student be required to make this sacrifice? Smoking in or around heavily populated areas, such as college campuses, should be banned due to the negative health effects it has on both smokers and nonsmokers.
Gateway has a few signs banning smoking on the balcony, but that just pushes smokers down the steps, a mere 3 feet from the building. By neglecting to strictly enforce nonsmoking policies, the UCI administration is in fact encouraging smokers. They are indirectly, but irrefutably, promoting an environment where the pollution of a shared space is accepted.
The entire walkway leading to the study center is a gathering place for smokers and it is impossible to avoid inhaling the smoke while walking through. Public intoxication is a crime in public places, punishable by law; why then, is disruption of the environment and health of the general public by people sucking on poison sticks tolerated without any consequences?
Drinking alcohol does not directly harm those in near company in the way that cigarette smoking does. Why the double standard? A college campus, especially, has a demographic consisting mostly of students in their early 20s; young adults in the prime of their life. The passive nature of administrators is facilitating the addictions of young smokers, contributing to their continued lifetime use.
If smoking were banned on campus, it would be much harder for smokers to get their daily fix. It would require them to walk off campus to a parking lot; a situation that could discourage them from smoking as often. By creating an obstruction to their way of life, nonsmoking policies could be instrumental in turning around the health of many smokers. Simply instituting an inconvenience has the potential to create a snowball effect. Many among the 60 schools nationwide that have established nonsmoking policies have also launched quitting programs.
By supporting their policies with personalized curriculums, these schools are actively engaging with their students in order to create real and sustainable lifestyle changes. This unequivocally demonstrates that they are truly interested in the health of their students. Positive reinforcement may be the only push these students need in order to finally rid themselves of a destructive habit. According to the CDC, smokers who quit by age 30 reduce their risk of lung cancer by 90 percent. This fact alone is enough to warrant a change in current policies.
By facilitating smokers, the university is also neglecting to think about the health of the nonsmokers. Those of us who choose not to poison our bodies by smoking cigarettes directly are given no choice but to inhale secondhand carcinogens. Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke make up 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer cases, and it is the cause of 3,000 deaths per year in the U.S. Smokers may have a right to purposefully hurt their own bodies, but they should not be allowed to harm the health of others through the consequences of their decisions. Nonsmokers can only protect themselves to a certain extent. Their options are to hold their breath or walk another way. Most people simply choose to continue on their normal route and put up with the discomfort associated with walking behind a smoker. Although the discomfort may be temporary, the costs of inhaling environmental cigarette smoke on a regular basis can be deadly.
Banning smoking on campus is beneficial for everyone. The current lack of enforcement is conveying the wrong message of indifference, disinterest and de facto tolerance. UCI administration should take a proactive stance towards the enforcement of its policies in order to create a healthier environment and promote better lifestyles for its students.
Shivani Sheth is a fourth-year public health major. She can be reached at email@example.com.