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Questioning smoking ban

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Let me preface this column by saying that I do not smoke. I tried a cigarette once several years ago and didn’t find it particularly appealing. It’s also pretty obvious that smoking leads to cancer, damages teeth and skin, and is an expensive habit.

That being said, smoking tobacco is legal in this country and I respect other people’s right to light up as long as they do so in a manner that shows concern toward others.

I learned last week that University officials are considering a campus-wide ban on smoking that would take effect in the next few years.

Notre Dame’s debate against smoking on campus surprised me, in part because it’s being considered by a University that turns a blind eye toward underage drinking and because many students who ordinarily campaign for the rights of others are so quick to support the measure.

In addition, I believe that the current policy is effective in creating an environment that allows both smokers and nonsmokers to coexist fairly peacefully.

According to duLac, “the right of non-smokers to a smoke-free environment always takes precedence over the desire of smokers to smoke.” The undergraduate student handbook states that smoking is prohibited in all buildings, stadiums and University vehicles. Notre Dame leaves open the possibility of allowing students to smoke in their dorm rooms, but individual halls have rules and regulations that effectively forbid it. University policy also prohibits smoking in outdoor high-traffic areas.

This essentially means that students are forced to smoke in designated outdoor areas. Such measures ensure that those who smoke have an opportunity to do so, while safeguarding those who may have asthma, are allergic to tobacco smoke or find the habit unpleasant.

My experience to date has indicated that, overall, Notre Dame smokers are respectful of the rules and other people. I am rarely bombarded with the smell of smoke when I walk around campus and I almost never see litter from tobacco products on the ground.

I have, however, observed a nationwide trend that aims at demonizing and belittling those who smoke. I have watched passers-by reward smokers who are enjoying their habit at a considerate distance from others with dirty looks, and I have friends who dispense insulting and condescending remarks to smokers because they “care.”

If the University is smart, it will avoid getting involved in this messy debate. The current policy on smoking is effective in creating a good environment for nonsmokers while simultaneously accommodating those who smoke.

As the old adage says, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”