Students should fume over smoking ban

By Special To The Collegian


By Nathan Lamb

Herter 227 lecture hall was filled to the breaking point with occupants, as one student after another voiced their staunch opposition to the “Tobacco-Free UMass Amherst” policy.

Regardless, the Faculty Senate has proven yet again its blatant disregard for the will of the student body, endorsing the policy with a vote of 14-to-7. Not one single student, smoker or non-smoker, spoke in favor of the policy.

Generally, the University of Massachusetts is good at making it at least seem like the opinion of the students is taken into consideration, but in this instance, the students were flat-out ignored.

The policy, being painted as a “smoke-free” policy, is testament of its intrinsically shady nature. The policy does not aim to simply reduce second hand smoke for non-smokers. Rather, it is an ultimatum handed down by the faculty telling students what legal products or substances they can or cannot use during their stay at UMass. The policy bans all tobacco products and even one non-tobacco product aimed at helping people quit smoking, electronic cigarettes. Among the most egregious aspects of the policy are bans on smokeless tobacco and smoking in one’s own personal vehicle while on campus.

One of the main arguments made by the faculty in support of the policy is the failed enforcement of the state law, which requires people to stand at least 20 feet away from buildings when smoking. It is strange how UMass has failed to adequately enforced this law. Could it be because cigarette butt receptacles are literally placed next to the doors of buildings on campus? Maybe they should try out the revolutionary idea of moving these receptacles to 20 feet away.

Has there been an effort to encourage students to smoke away from buildings? No. Maybe they should provide designated smoking areas in high-traffic areas on campus, much like the gazebos at Hampshire College, for smoking with protection from the weather. Rather than making any attempt whatsoever to curb the problem of smoking in front of buildings, it seems to authority the 20 feet law is unenforceable. After claiming this existing law unenforceable, the supporters within Faculty Senate went on to explain how the new bans would also be essentially unenforceable.

Reducing second-hand smoke is an understandable goal for UMass, especially in front of buildings. However, university and faculty supporters of the tobacco-free policy have yet to explain why smoking in personal vehicles, smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes have found their way into this policy.

The only reasonable explanation for these provisions is that the University is attempting to regulate the personal and moral decisions of students regardless of whether or not non-tobacco users are being affected. These substances and products are legal for all adults to purchase and use. The university and faculty have no right to regulate the moral and health related decisions of adults when those decisions are legal in the limits of the law. We cannot allow the University to set the precedent that regulating and systematically removing the personal freedoms of students is acceptable policy.

According to the Board of Trustees Statement on University Governance document, “Students will have primary responsibility for services and activities which are designed primarily to serve students or those which are financed primarily by students, managing student political affairs and organizational matters, and setting standards for student behavior, conduct, and discipline.”

The tobacco ban is undoubtedly a policy concerning the behavior, conduct and discipline of students, but was the Student Government Association consulted? No. Was the Graduate Student Senate consulted? No. Was there a referendum question on the spring election ballots to gauge student support for the “Tobacco-Free UMass Amherst” policy? No. Students were inarguably ignored throughout the entire process of drafting and passing this policy because they know students would absolutely detest the over-reaching, freedom-encroaching and overbroad nature of this policy.

This policy has given rise to many important questions. Why has the health council chosen to address tobacco use before attempting to address the much more severe health concerns on campus like drunk driving? Who are the faculty and the University to tell students what legal products or substances they can or cannot put in their own bodies while hiding behind the façade of reducing second-hand smoke? And, after admitting the impossibility of enforcing the tobacco ban, why wait until 2013 to implement it?

The answer to the last question is obvious enough. It is clear that the school knows the students oppose such an encroachment on their personal freedoms. By waiting until 2013, the UMass conceals the caustic nature of this issue from the public eye for two years, by which time half of the opposition will graduate and begin their post-collegiate lives.

The most reprehensible aspect of this policy, however, is how it is being misrepresented by its supporters as a smoking ban, rather than the egregious and intrusive ultimatum on morality, health and personal freedoms of students that it truly is.

Do not let the University win by subverting our opposition and silencing our voice. It is imperative that you write about it, organize protests and voice your displeasure. Voice your discontentment, not only with the policy itself, but for being disrespected and ignored by the university and faculty in the process through which this policy was created.

Nathan Lamb is a Senator for Student Government Association and Secretary of the UMass Republican Club.