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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Engrossing: Get off our butts

Published: February 11, 2011
Section: Opinions

A few days ago, over a plate of Asia Wok veggie lo-mein, I got to thinking about my parents’ favorite Chinese restaurant. As I remember it from my childhood, Wang’s Garden was a tiny hole in the wall with eight tables or less.

The restaurant’s small size was conducive to intimate family dinners; some of my fondest family memories call Wang’s Garden home. The establishment, however, was fatally flawed by the manager’s chain-smoking at the corner table.

My parents would constantly complain about the manager’s smoking, but there was nothing to be done about this smelly problem. That is, until the very controversial non-smoking bans in Pennsylvania forced the manager to take his smoking outside, which left my family and me in joy and peace, happily liberated from the manager’s smoke.

I remember feeling so thrilled to be able to enjoy my wonton soup in peace and clean air. Unfortunately, after reading of a recent edition of The New York Times, I fear that my initial elation at the installation of these regulations has faded, leaving in its place a sinking feeling that government regulations on smoking are going a little too far.

A recent Times editorial revealed that the New York City Council recently voted—36 to 12—“to ban smoking outdoors in city parks, beaches and even plazas, including in Times Square.”

I would have to agree with The New York Times editorial claiming that “city councils have overreached” by trying to prohibit smoking in such public areas and tourist hot-spots.

While the initial regulations on smoking were put in place to reduce smoking indoors in restaurants and other establishments are reasonable, these new pieces of legislation, proposing more widespread bans on tobacco use toe the line of insanity. The Times editorial agrees with me, asserting that while those who created this anti-tobacco legislation called their plan “a noble experiment. It turned into a civic disaster.”

While these smoking bans got their start in restaurants and establishments across the country and spread to major cities and tourist locales, college campuses are not far behind.

Teaming up with the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, more than 466 college campuses across the nation have jumped on the bandwagon of tobacco prohibition.

This long list of smoke-free campuses includes Washington University in St. Louis.

According to the WashU website regarding their tobacco-free campaign, “under the new policy, smoking and the use of all other tobacco products is prohibited on the entire campus. Smoking also is prohibited inside vehicles parked in campus parking lots.”

A friend of mine who attends the university explained to me that while the smoking bans may seem designed to protect nonsmokers’ rights, the reality is not so simple.

Although smoking is banned on all of campus, the main road running between the residential and academic areas of campus is considered neutral territory, as it is a public road.

As a result of this, smokers would congregate along this street, and every student walking through campus has to pass right through them to get to their dorms or classes.

Instead of eliminating the threat of secondhand smoke, the ban actually increases the exposure of nonsmokers to second-hand smoke; inconveniencing both smokers and nonsmokers alike.

Although I don’t smoke, I don’t see how this—or any—university has the right to dictate whether or not its students have the right to engage in an act that is completely legal (assuming that those who are partaking are 18 years old).

It is not uncommon for private university tuition to be upwards of $50,000 per year. For this type of tuition, this micromanaging of student rights is ridiculous to say the least.

We as university students are adults and it seems unquestionably wrong to deprive adults of something that is unquestionably legal.

As Louis Brandeis—the namesake of our university—said, “we have the right to be left alone,” and I believe that, no matter how we as individuals feel about tobacco use, we should respect that right.