Smoker rights

While I find secondhand smoke as irritating as the next non-smoker, I was quite disturbed to hear about this new campaign to banish cigarettes from campus. The scope of this decision distresses me because it seems to threaten a liberty I hold dear: the right to make stupid decisions that concern only oneself. I don’t smoke, and I’m all for keeping cigarettes out of restaurants, corridors, perhaps even the stoop of Baxter.

But private rooms? Even if there is some medical evidence on the health risks of second hand smoke, I sadly suspect that this measure is simply another instance of anti-smoking zealotry, itself one face of the pathological risk aversion endemic to our time and our corner of the world.

The ban is sure to encounter minimal objection, since smokers are already so few at Williams. This scarcity of smokers is the basis of perhaps my most concrete cause for concern: as we follow through with the ban, we are meddling very conspicuously in the lives of perhaps a hundred students for the sake of a payoff that I, for one, find too nebulous to care much about.

And, to throw a little doubt on the putative cost-benefit profile that is no doubt somewhere in the background here, I expect the most tangible effect of the ban (for the non-smoking majority) will be to further homogenize the student body. Make no mistake, I do not want to keep smokers on campus for the sake of their habit. I actually feel quite sorry for the bastards much of the time.

The students who do smoke, however, usually provide a much needed counterbalance to the “average Williams student.” By and large, studious athletes don’t smoke: rather, it’s theatre people, international students, and jaded pop music fans who light up. I wouldn’t have gone to a school where I couldn’t drink, and I cannot imagine that smokers will be anxious to come here in future years for a nice helping of opprobrium when smoker-friendly Amherst is down up the road.

And all for the sake of what? I am not eager to get cancer: I’m nonetheless not all that troubled by the fact that my diet and my environment are chock-full of carcinogens. If I were, I’d probably just stay in bed every morning. It’s probably far too late to check administrative resolve (or momentum), but I want to be able to look my condemned smoker friends in the eye next year and tell them that, really, honestly, I tried my hardest not to trample on their autonomy.