Opinion: Disappearing In A Cloud Of Smoke

The environment of O’Neill Library rarely changes for students coming and going day-after-day, week-after-week--the constant hum of printers, the hushed chitter chatter of procrastinating students, the punching of laptop keys and the smell of cigarette smoke outside the doors. That’s right, I cannot remember the last time I walked out of the library and was not greeted by a cloud of secondhand smoke. The allowance of cigarette use on Boston College’s campus provides no reasonable benefits to the student body or the university as whole. It’s time for BC and universities nationwide to acknowledge what is best for students and enact a complete prohibition of smoking on campus.

Since the Surgeon General released a report in 1964 linking cigarettes to cancer, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses, cigarette smoking has decreased dramatically across the country. For college age students, however, the number of smokers increased from 8% in 1981 to about 28% percent in 1998 and sits at about 20% today. This number is surprisingly high given the explicit warnings of the negative health effects of cigarettes being provided to whom many would consider America’s most educated group of 18-22 year olds.

The reasoning behind college students choosing to smoke cigarettes is multifaceted. It is easy to blame the students themselves, but what is harder to ask is how the environment of today’s universities has caused students to continue a practice they know is unhealthy. College students cited the major reasons that they smoke as stress, peer pressure, low self-esteem and desire to not gain weight. At BC, students confront extremely high academic standards, constant social pressures exacerbated by the rise of social media and the most competitive job market in U.S. history. External factors clearly influence a student’s decision to smoke cigarettes much more than one might assume.

Regardless of environmental aspects, personal reasons likely play an important role in a student’s choice to smoke. Different students have different propensities toward addiction, respond to stress in a multitude of ways and vary in their regard for their personal well being. Students who smoke may think, “Who cares if I smoke in college?” and believe that quitting will be easy once they graduate. In addition, students on college campuses may lack the time or resources to confront an addiction.

The first step in fixing this problem is acknowledging that the BC community reaps no benefits from allowing smoking on campus. Not only do the student smokers suffer negative health effects, but they also expose their peers and the BC faculty to the effects of secondhand smoke. The only possible justification for smoking comes from the smokers themselves, who may claim that smoking is a personal choice. However, it’s well within BC’s rights to prohibit personal choices when they put the greater community and the individual at risk.

Implementing a change to university policies regarding smokers is a complex problem. What is the conduct system created to “punish” smokers on campus? How is prohibition of smoking enforced? Both are legitimate questions, but seem insignificant when compared to the health of students. If smoking provides an outlet or a stress relief for students, there are multitudes of alternatives available, including exercise, counseling or on-campus activities. Some may believe that rather than prohibiting smoking entirely, campuses could implement restrictions on student smokers, like limiting smoking to certain designated areas. I ask, however, is creating on-campus restrictions any easier for BC than complete prohibition? In the end, BC has the legal authority and moral obligation to ban tobacco use outright. It’s time to take action.

Our nation’s universities provide commendable examples of exemplary conduct and critical reasoning. With this reputation, how can schools like BC maintain policies that allow for detrimental health practices like smoking? The health risks associated with smoking cigarettes and encountering cigarette secondhand smoke are commonly known facts. Every student, faculty member and administer who walks across the quad knows they shouldn’t smoke cigarettes, even if they are smokers themselves. With this in mind, a decision to prohibit smoking on campus couldn't be viewed as anything other than appropriate.