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Two Perspectives: Issues with a Tobacco Ban

Opinion | March 6, 2017

I speak on behalf of many smokers when I say that we understand the dangers associated with this high-risk activity. Many of us have seen our friends or family fall ill or die from tobacco-related complications. Many of us have experienced the complications of tobacco use. I understand that tobacco kills, and I by no means speak in support of cigarettes, tobacco, or the tobacco industry. We’ve always known that tobacco kills, but it’s time we mention that “tobacco is not an equal-opportunity killer.”

 

The Tufts Tobacco Free initiative recently met with the Tufts Senate to discuss the details of their proposed policy, which would not be enforced by Tufts University Police, but rather through peer-reporting on an anonymous online form. Tufts Tobacco Free also plans to provide smoking-cessation resources through Health Services, a great help for students who want to quit, especially those for whom the cost of nicotine patches or gum would present a larger financial burden.

 

Senior Megan D’Andrea of Tufts Tobacco Free told the Tufts Daily, “We do not want this campus to support smoking, and so it just makes sense to have an overall tobacco-free campus in which this behavior is not approved of.” The “behavior” in question which must not be “approved” is a symptom of addiction, a chronic illness often inextricably associated with many aspects of the tobacco user’s identity, such as race, sexuality, socioeconomic class, and mental health. The last thing people suffering with addiction are seeking is the approval of Tufts students. Furthermore, understanding that tobacco use is closely related to the communities from which we come and our personal health and histories, and seeing that Tufts is a community of people from diverse backgrounds, why should we disapprove of this particular “behavior?”

 

Outside the Tufts campus, nationwide anti-tobacco organizations have gone in a different direction by focusing their recent efforts on spreading awareness about social factors and catalysts of tobacco use. For example, the anti-smoking advocacy group Truth’s new #STOPPROFILING campaign puts social identities of race and class at the forefront of the anti-tobacco conversation. Our lawmakers, meanwhile, have tried (and failed) to tackle the way the tobacco industry markets to children.

 

Taking a closer look at the prevalence of smoking by racial and income demographics, as well as tobacco marketing campaigns of the last few decades, there exists a major flaw with the smoking ban: the social problem and moral failing underlying tobacco use. Tobacco retailers are more likely to be near schools in low-income neighborhoods; tobacco companies advertise up to ten times more in Black communities than in others, and aggressively market to homeless and queer people. Studies by the Centers for Disease Control also show that smoking is widely used as a coping mechanism for stress, which is often the result of a disability or mental illness. One student I spoke with outside of Tisch told me, “I use cigarettes to cope with stress. Other students have comfort animals on campus and I can’t take care of a dog so I do this. I don’t think either of us should have to leave campus to cope with stress.”

 

Harvard University has a smoke-free policy, with placards next to building entrances and sidewalk signs scattered around The Yard that read “Tobacco-Free Campus.” I spoke with Jason, a recent Harvard College graduate, who told me about the enforcement of the school’s policies.

 

“It doesn’t seem to be a big issue with students. I know that campus staff, like our dining hall and janitorial staff, have to go way out of their way to smoke…Students have more time and space to get off campus. I always see the dining hall staff workers really far from where they work when they’re smoking, which I assume is because they’ve been told if they’re smoking anywhere near a campus building, they’ll get in trouble.”

 

A campus tobacco ban could easily pose a problem for our dining hall staff and janitors, for example, who work long shifts on campus, in centralized dining facilities and dorms far away from public streets where smoking would be “approved of.” Even with human resources’ proposed accommodations, many workers do not have access to the benefits of Tufts Health Services/Counseling and Mental Health Services.

 

A smoking ban is an easy pill to swallow for someone who could, if they wanted to, walk off the boundaries of Tufts’ campus for a cigarette break in the day. Reducing secondhand smoke is not worth physically kicking marginalized members of the Tufts community off this campus. We must manage addiction care and tobacco reform as issues of social and economic justice, while also maintaining an interest in public health in order to centralize the lived experiences of the people affected most directly by smoke-free policies.