Dead ends, makeshift pathways, caution tape, and noise pollution are all in a day’s work for a typical UTD student. However, another somewhat unexpected problem has arisen because of the construction on campus: common areas with air that is heavily saturated with cigarette smoke. Smoking on campus is obviously not a new issue, but shrinking sitting areas on campus have forced many more students to confront the epidemic. Increased construction has removed many of the common areas where campus smokers could congregate away from non-smoking students, leaving areas such as the plinth steps crowded. Now, with everyone forced to take the same routes to class and congregate in the same areas cigarette and e-cigarette smoke is concentrated into smaller areas, forcing everyone to share the polluted air.
The problem is not construction, but the fact that smoking on campus is not regulated enough to mitigate these problems, despite the campus having a tobacco free policy. The current official smoking policy of the university is fairly new. As of fall 2012, all buildings on campus were made “tobacco free.” Tobacco use, including products such as cigarettes, cigars, hookah, electronic cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, snuff, and chewing tobacco, were prohibited in the parking lots and walkways near NSERL and Berkner, and cannot be used within 10 meters of any building. However, this is a very lax policy for an educational institution.
The problem gets worse when the enforcement of these policies is considered. There are no clear consequences outlined, which has created a culture of not taking smoking policy seriously. When was the last time a student actually got fined, or even warned, for smoking too close to a building? The lack of enforcement combined with an ever shrinking campus has made it close to impossible to walk to class without having to inhale toxic chemicals and second hand smoke.
UTD needs to not only make a policy that is visible and enforced with clear consequences, but also follow in the footsteps of many other universities in the country and become completely smoke free.
According to Americans for Nonsmokers Rights (ANR), as of October 2, 2015, there are at least 1,620 smoke free campuses in the United States, with 769 of these prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes anywhere on campus. In Texas alone, there are about 25 universities who have implemented this policy, including Baylor, Texas State, and Texas Tech. Even large campuses within the UT system, such as UT Austin, UT Arlington, and UT San Antonio, have taken the lead by banning tobacco on campus.
Smoke free campuses have become increasingly popular over the last couple of years, with the current number being almost double the number of smoke free campuses in October 2011. However, this number should continue to climb because of the growing social norm of smoke free environments, and support from within the academic community for these policies in educational institutions. As a modern and growing university, UTD should help our fight for tier one status by also promoting a smoke free setting.
However, while image matters, there is more than reputation at stake. Smoke free policies exist because of the positive effects they can have on the health and well-being of college students.
The health risks associated with tobacco use are well known, and it is important to recognize how beneficial a policy would be, especially given the fact that enforcing a smoke free campus can drastically disincentive people from starting to smoke in the first place.
According to the National Cancer Institute, smoking is the leading cause of cancer and death from cancer, with each cigarette reducing the smoker’s lifespan by 11 minutes. Although it is unlikely that current smokers will quit simply because of a campus ban, the policy will discourage social smoking, and thus decrease the chances of people picking up the habit.
However, smoking bans also reduce the frequency of second-hand smoke health problems by forcing current smokers off campus to smoke. According to a study done by the American Legacy Foundation, “the number of individuals aged 18 to 19 years in the early stages of smoking initiation is more than double that of established smokers aged 18 years.” This means that the early college years are when many people become smokers— a problem that a smoking ban could help to reduce.
People who oppose tobacco bans usually cite freedom of choice as their central argument. They argue that forcibly preventing others from engaging in a behavior that is harmful removes their right to make decisions regarding their own body. In many cases, this argument would make sense— for instance, a law requiring students to eat a certain diet or exercise a number of times a week could be argued as a violation of personal freedom. However, in these cases, only the person making the decision is affected. In the case of smoking, other people can be negatively affected by the person’s decision.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, second hand smoke has an immediate harmful effect on the heart and blood vessels. The CDC states that the only way to fully protect nonsmokers is to “eliminate smoking in all homes, worksites, and public places.”
Still, many dismiss the seriousness of secondhand smoke, or think that it requires prolonged exposure. However, a study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic found that five minutes of exposure to second hand smoke stiffens the aorta as much as smoking one cigarette, and only 20 minutes causes excess blood clotting and increases the buildup of fat deposits in blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Students are potentially exposed to secondhand for much longer than 20 minutes a day. Simply being stuck behind a smoker as they are walking to class or having lunch outside is now a serious health risk. By now, most students have already been affected, and it is time the university acknowledges the adverse health effects on students.
The changes that need to be made are not radical or revolutionary. Many of the colleges in the U.S. who are smoke-free have instituted a system of citations and fines. For instance, the University of Illinois has a system where a warning is given for the first violation, a $25 fee is issued for the second violation (which may be waived by completing a video educational program within 72 hours), a $50 fine for the third violation, and a $100 fine per occurrence for the fourth and subsequent violations. A similar system adopted by UTD would rapidly decrease the instances of public smoking and the chances of second hand smoke inhalation.
We must, however, temper our expectations. A system of fines or even a complete ban on tobacco use will undoubtedly be met with backlash from both students and faculty, but it is necessary in order to have a cleaner and healthier campus. This ban will respect the rights of all students. Nonsmokers have the right to breathe clean air rather than secondhand smoke, and smokers always have the option of leaving campus if they need to smoke. UTD must make the right decision and join the hundreds of other campuses around the country who have adopted a smoke-free policy.