Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A non-smoker student against the tobacco ban

Walking through campus on a daily basis, one can see smokers (and their abandoned cigarette butts) throughout campus. While not as prevalent as it was in our parents’ generation, smoking is still popular among college-aged individuals. Approximately one in four individuals over the age of 18 smokes regularly, according to the Center for Disease Control. Every day, I pass Franklin Dining Common and avoid the workers’ fume-cloud as they puff away on their breaks. I avoid the hazy trail of second-hand smoke as I walk behind a smoker on my way to class or at the bus stop. So when I heard of the University of Massachusetts’ plan to ban tobacco on campus, “A Tobacco-Free UMass,” I was initially supportive. The policy will be voted on today by Faculty Senate of the University.

After all, the tobacco ban is an attempt to improve public health of the campus itself. Cigarette butts are so prevalent as litter that they have sparked campaigns to clean up, such as the “No Butts About It Day” in November last semester. The campaign pitted volunteers against the thousands of discarded cigarette butts that cover campus and also raised awareness about the effects of smoking. The ban would, in theory, create a more beautiful campus with more healthful students who have the tools to live lifestyles centered in wellness.

This is not to say that everyone will have such a rosy outlook, should this policy come into effect.

“What about my civil rights?,” some might ask. “Don’t I have the personal freedom to smoke?” Smoking, however, is not protected by the Constitution as a personal right, according to the Public Health Institute’s Legal Center, which outlines that there is no constitutional right to smoke.

“The privacy interest protected by the U.S. Constitution includes only marriage, contraception, family relationships, and the rearing and educating of children,” according to the PHI, citing Supreme Court cases “Griswold vs. Connecticut,” (1964)Meyers vs. Nebraska” (1923) and “Moore vs. East Cleveland” (1997). “Very few private acts by individuals qualify as fundamental privacy interests, and smoking is not one of them.”

The PHI supports this final claim with evidence from the 1995 City of North Miami vs. Kurtz, where the city’s requirement that job applicants affirm that they had not used tobacco in the preceding year was upheld by the court because “the ‘right to smoke’ is not included within the penumbra of fundamental rights protected under [the Federal Constitution’s privacy provisions].” Therefore, there is no legal basis against the enactment of a ban on tobacco at UMass.

However, despite my support of this policy in theory, I feel that it could never function effectively in practice. Public dissent aside, the greater problem lies in the fact that the ban has some rather unrealistic clauses, as well as no set way of enforcement. Section II,3, states that “the use of tobacco will be prohibited inside any vehicle located on University grounds.” This means that anyone who happens to drive through the campus – including “all University land, parking lots, parking ramps, athletic fields, tennis courts, and recreational areas” according to II, 2, – will have to dispose of their cigarette, even if their drive is two minutes through the edge of campus. All visitors and contractors – people not even truly a part of the UMass community – must abide by the ban according to Section II.

These measures, which seem unrealistic, if not extreme, appear even sillier when juxtaposed with the fact that enforcement of those policies would be difficult, if not impossible. As stated in the proposal, enforcement would operate on a kind of honor system that would “rely on the cooperation of all … not only to comply with the policy, but also to encourage others to comply …”

For an official University-wide policy, the mode of enforcement seems to depend on none other than the peer pressure of high school hallways. The next clause states that the responsibility of enforcement belongs to “immediate supervisors and ultimately University Human Resources” for faculty and staff and “for students, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs.” However, there is no mention of fines or disciplinary action, nor any new organization to police acquiescence to the policy. Therefore, regardless of any personal argument for or against the ban, putting the policy into effect seems to be a vague venture at best and an ineffectual flop at worst.

Should the ban pass, relying on this honor system (and with clauses that will be ignored and thus undermine the policy), it would be a massive waste of funding. Money spent on “signage, flyers, information resources, announcements … [and] a webpage” and “the development and enhancement of smoke-cessation resources” per Section III, 2,3, will be wasted on a University population that isn’t listening because there is no fear of any judicial reproach.

The “A Tobacco-Free UMass” policy could be great and is one that I support, in theory. Yes, as a non-smoker, I do greatly dislike second-hand smoke. Yes, there is no constitutional basis for a “right to smoke,” so the ban would stand legally. Yes, I believe in the cessation of smoking and the pathway to a healthier lifestyle and more beautiful campus. But I believe this policy would fail.

There is no real way to prevent drivers from smoking while passing through campus, nor visitors or contractors who are essentially unaffiliated with the University. As of yet, there are no real consequences for those who do frequent campus regularly to simply ignore the ban – save for the fearsome adolescent stink-eye from their non-smoker neighbor. The policy, while hopeful and with best intentions at heart, would be a waste of valuable funding unless a better plan for enforcement with realistic clauses is created.

Melissa Mahoney is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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