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Students have mixed reactions to proposed legislation

Katie Perry | Wednesday, September 7, 2005

A proposed law in St. Joseph County that would ban smoking in specified public areas ignited fiery opinions on both sides of the issue and left Notre Dame’s marginal population of student smokers fuming.

Area residents discussed and debated the pending legislation – which would prohibit smoking in restaurants, private businesses, sports arenas and other public areas – at a public hearing held Tuesday in South Bend.

No official polls have been conducted to estimate the approximate percentage of student smokers at the University, though numbers appear low. But despite their diminutive numbers, student smokers at Notre Dame have vocalized their anger and frustration over the proposed bill.

Sophomore Dan Toler called the ban “ridiculous.”

“All over the country, people are trying to tell me how to live my life,” Toler said. “It’s my body, and I should be able to smoke where and when I like. I’m tired of the government telling me what’s good for me.”

For many smokers, like sophomore Nick Cottingham, the ban came to no surprise.

“I know there have been similar bans around the U.S. and I figure it’s a matter of time before they are all over the country,” he said.

In 1998, Boulder, Colo. became the first U.S. city to outlaw smoking in public places. Three years later, California implemented a similar bill and instigated a wave of copycat legislation across the nation on both state-wide and region-wide levels.

Today, dozens of cities like Lexington, Ky., Lincoln, Neb. and Austin, Texas maintain smoke-free environments in specified public areas. Nine states have passed similar laws prohibiting cigarette smoke in restaurants, bars and other indoor locations.

Sophomore Francis Smith said there are “absolutely” no advantages to the ban.

“Though Notre Dame doesn’t have too many smokers, I imagine South Bend has its fair share,” he said. “Because of that, the local economy is going to be hurt by people no longer coming to bars.”

In addition to criticism that the proposed ban will negatively influence the local economy in South Bend and the rest of St. Joseph County, detractors said the legislation would deter the American value of choice and eliminate certain personal freedoms.

One organization on campus that has expressed deep opposition to the ban is the College Libertarians of Notre Dame. In addition to citing negative economic implications, members claim the bill is a direct threat to some of their “most fundamental Constitutional rights.”

“As defenders of freedom, individual rights, and personal choice, we believe that owners of private establishments such as bars and restaurants should have the right to decide whether they will allow or prohibit smoking on their property,” co-president Catherine Kent said. “The public would support or protest the decision of the establishment owner with their patronage.”

Kent said both smoking and refraining from smoking are individual freedoms which should not be infringed upon.

“Smoking is a personal choice; it is true that second-hand smoke can have negative effects on people who are continually exposed to it for long periods of time,” she said. “From that same reasoning, however, working in or eating at a bar or restaurant that allows smoking is also a personal choice.”

But for sophomore Timmy Falvey – a fervent supporter of the ban – cigarette smoke and its associated health hazards take precedence over the economic and political implications of the proposed bill.

“Smoking killed my grandfather, who battled the symptoms of emphysema for many years before he passed,” Falvey said. “I have never been much of an activist, but in response to situations such as this, it is my patrimony to take the issue head on and turn the negative into positive.”

Falvey, who attended Tuesday’s public forum, said the legislation’s rewards would be “conspicuously apparent.”

“[The ban’s main advantage is] clear air inside various public venues for those of us who choose to exercise our freedom not to smoke,” he said. “Indirectly, it sends a message to those who inhibit my right to breathe clean air that their decisions are not agreeable.”

Toler said the ban would likely only benefit non-smokers who tend to ostracize the minority population of smokers at Notre Dame and elsewhere.

“The people who fake a cough when I pass them on the quad, or give me weird looks,” Toler said, “they’re the only ones who will find ‘advantages’ to this bill.”

Smith agreed that smokers are often confronted with feelings of scorn or contempt from the non-smoking public.

“It seems to be a trend in America nowadays to treat smokers as lepers and this [ban] is just one sign of it,” Smith said.

Although student smokers were passionate in their opposition to the bill, many were also disenchanted and felt there was little they can do to reverse the growing number of smoking bans.

“Nobody cares what I say or do anyways, since I’m a smoker,” Toler said. “My plan is to do the same thing I do at home, where a similar ban exists, which is just to ignore it. If someone wants to fine me, they can be my guest, but I’m not giving up my right to smoke just because a bunch of stuffed-shirt politicians say I have to.”

Cottingham said he was “too lazy” to take any action against the proposed law.

“I rarely go to any restaurants that allow smoking anyway, and I’m not old enough to go to bars, so I’m not too worried about it,” Cottingham said. “[Also,] there’s nowhere on campus that you can smoke indoors anyway.”

Smith was also apathetic concerning action against the ban.

“I really [couldn’t] care less what happens in this city,” he said.

But Kent and the College Libertarians were much more proactive in their efforts to “ban the smoking ban.” Co-president (and Observer Viewpoint columnist) Scott Wagner wrote a letter to the South Bend Tribune encouraging citizens to vocalize their opposition to the proposed law.

Both Kent and Wagner attended the public hearing to voice their own concerns and distribute information to those in attendance. Kent said they will also collect signatures from Notre Dame students and submit them in the form of a petition to the county commissioner’s office prior to the official vote.

Hartung said if the bill goes through, the county should plan to create “adequate, accessible, and fair smoking areas.”

“Everyone knows that [smoking] is an addiction and they better take that into account,” he said. “Otherwise, they are going to have a lot of really irritable people now with more time on their hands with which to protest.”