Lock, stock, and two smoking…

Last week’s edition of the Record featured an editorial on the new smoking policy on campus. While the authors acknowledged the risks of second-hand smoke, the article ended with an erroneous metaphor; the choice to smoke was compared to the choice to eat a cheeseburger. Here is a more accurate comparison: Lighting up a cigarette near someone is like stuffing a cheeseburger into their mouth.

The cheeseburger reference was made in regards to concerns that the College was acting in an overly paternalistic manner. When we hear the “p-word,” most of us recoil; we like to think that independent thinking is one of our strong suits. However, the College has legitimate concerns – a little paternalism might not be a bad thing.

According to fire chief Joseph Moran, 11 percent of fire alarm activations in dorms are caused by smoking; if you’ve ever stood outside Mission at 5 a.m. in December, you know how frustrating an unnecessary fire alarm is.

More importantly, cigarette usage in dorms can cross the line from annoyance to danger. Over the past four years, three of the College’s small fires were caused by careless disposal of smoking materials. Due to fire safety concerns, the College bans the use of candles, incense and coffee makers in student rooms; it is a policy that epitomizes effective paternalism.

If every American has the right to make coffee in the privacy of his or her home, why can’t a junior living in Mark Hopkins exercise the same right? Simply put, the rules of the game change when the interests of 71 other students are at stake. Presented with the choice between an individual liberty and overall student safety, the College made an informed decision to prohibit the use of coffee makers.

It’s tough to rationalize the exemption of cigarettes and cigars from this list of restricted items; the task becomes more arduous when we examine the risks of second-hand smoke. In his e-mail to the campus, President Schapiro cited the landmark 1993 EPA report that outlined the deleterious effects of second-hand smoke. The report states, “The Environmental Protection Agency firmly maintains that the bulk of the scientific evidence demonstrates that secondhand smoke. . . causes lung cancer and other significant health threats to children and adults;” it was peer-reviewed by 18 eminent, independent scientists who unanimously endorsed the study’s methodology and conclusions.

Some have questioned the study’s validity; I find it hard to believe that the well-respected EPA advisory board would stake their reputation on shoddy science. If you take the EPA report at face value, then both of the College’s new restrictions make sense; the onus falls on smokers to avoid jeopardizing the health of other students.

To illustrate the benefits of the “no smoking in dorms” rule, let us take Mission Park as a case study. It is common knowledge that Mission attracts sophomores from a wide range of social groups. The suites in Mission can house four, five, six, or seven students; the student pick size has been capped at four per housing group.

Let us imagine that two housing groups pick into a seven-person suite. Group A has three students, all of whom are non-smokers. On the other hand, Group B is not smoker-free; two of the students go through about a pack a day. While the students in Group B chose to live next to smokers, the students in Group A did not have a say in the matter.

Under the former smoking policy, students were obligated to negotiate a smoking policy amongst themselves. If Group A complained of second-hand smoke inhalation, they would have a chat with Group B. If Group B proved unaccommodating, then Group A could take the matter to the College for mediation.

Regardless of the eventual solution, subtle retaliation between the two groups is a likely possibility. By placing a universal ban on smoking, the College lessens the chance of “bad blood” developing between the two groups, and it does so in a manner that places student health as its top priority.

To illustrate the benefits of the “25-feet” rule, let’s travel over to the other side of campus. In the Berkshire Quad dorms, there is less of a chance that non-smokers and smokers would be living in close quarters. However, the air intake units are close to these dorms; they are capable of bringing smoke directly into the hallways.

In addition, if a student walks over to Driscoll for dinner, his path will likely cross dorms. The “25-feet” rule ensures that students walking to Driscoll – or anywhere else in the Berkshire quad – will not have to go out of their way to avoid the risks of second-hand smoke.

In essence, that is the guiding principle behind the new smoking policy: non-smokers should not have to bend over backwards to avoid serious risks to their health. Driscoll doesn’t just serve cheeseburgers. Rather, the College ensures that our dining halls provide a wide range of food choices. Saturated fat and cigarette smoke both pose serious risks to our health; we can choose to partake of both, but other students should not be forced to take extreme measures to avoid them.