I’m sure everyone has noticed the dueling tablers outside the Caf. It’s the Tobacco Ban versus the Anti-Anti Smoking table. This is yet another admirable example of the Gustie passion for protest and petition-signing. Now, to be fair, I’ve only briefly discussed the issue with the tables, but I think I’ve got the gist of it, which has been dragged up repeatedly throughout Gustavus history.
The only real reason for smoking to be discussed by the community is the issue of second hand smoke. No one wants cancer-causing aromas blown in their face. According to the American Cancer Society, second hand smoke is responsible for heart disease, lung cancer, and aggravates asthma among non-smokers.
With the smokers I have noticed on campus, they are always a respectful distance from others and dispose of their cigarettes properly. No one is being utterly idiotic and smoking inside buildings, and they haven’t for a long time. No one is maliciously attempting to give anyone else lung cancer. As long as smokers maintain a respectful etiquette with their habit, I have a problem trying to tell them to take it elsewhere.
Gustavus is a large, spacious campus. There is plenty of room for smokers and non-smokers to coexist. It’s one thing if someone is blowing cigarette smoke into classrooms or people’s personal space, but it’s another matter if people are being as respectful as possible.
The difficult truth is that there are dangerous chemicals everywhere. They’re hidden in cleaning products, escaping from car exhaust, and they’re even mixed into the food we eat as pesticides and preservatives. Too much of anything is a health risk. It’s frustratingly inescapable.
But this smoking ban comes down to the issue of personal freedom. No one is ever okay with being told how to live their lives or how to treat their bodies. As much as I dislike the way tobacco products are advertised and how horribly damaging they are to a person’s health, I would never tell another person how to treat their body.
I wouldn’t want someone telling me to put down my cupcake because it has trans-fats. I wouldn’t lecture the guys in the weight room about how unhealthy their jacked up protein shakes can be for their bodies. I wouldn’t want someone to be told they can’t get a tattoo, or an abortion, or dye their hair, or pierce their face.
The effects of tobacco can be devastating. Everyone has seen the gleaming pink lung compared to the crusty charcoal-colored mess of a thirty-year smoker. So instead of shaming smokers and trying to ban their habit, maybe we should be focusing on something a little more proactive?
Let’s make quit plans more available. Let’s be more supportive and understanding of how incredibly difficult it is to overcome an addiction. If we really need to protest something, why not protest the glorification of tobacco and the misuse of advertising?
According to the American Lung Association’s 2006 marketing information, tobacco companies spent over $34 million dollars a day to advertise their products. That’s a disgusting amount of money to be spent on something so harmful.
Clearly, there are problems with smoking and the tobacco industry. But I think Gusties have better things to do than complain and outlaw the handful of respectful smokers we have on campus.
Besides, there’s a big, messed up world out there ready for us to fix. I’m sure we can all find something else to table for.