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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Smoke stinks, in fact, it really stinks

Published: February 18, 2011
Section: Opinions, Top Stories

GRAPHIC BY Steven Wong/The Hoot

Last week’s Hoot featured a column in the impressions section titled “Get off our butts,” which defended the right of smokers to smoke. While I may think smoking is incredibly stupid, and I would even openly go out of my way to disrespect anyone in my family that smokes (former smokers excluded), I certainly think that smokers have their rights; to the extent that they do not interfere with the rights of myself and other non-smokers.

Last week’s column seems to agree with a New York Times editorial that feels New York City overstepped its power when it voted to ban outdoor smoking in public places including Times Square. I fundamentally disagree. While I may be a little biased, as my hometown was among the first in Minnesota to restrict smoking and to implement some of the most restrictive rules on smoking until a state ban went into effect a couple of years later, it still doesn’t invalidate the fact that smoking affects not only smokers but also the many people around them.

I feel Brandeis does not go far enough in regulating smoking on campus. It is nearly impossible to make it from south campus, namely the Village, up to the top of Rabb without having to smell the odious stench of cigarette smoke. Brandeis walkways all stem from a central pathway that cuts through campus; without designated smoking areas, students short on time have no option but to walk the path between Usdan and the libraries as well as right up the Rabb steps, which are both crowded “choke points.” Whenever I see this, and have the time, I try to cut though the Usdan courtyard and either use the North Quad entrance to Rabb Quad or go through the Mandel Center.

Perhaps one of the easiest things Brandeis can do is increase awareness and enforcement of the smoking regulations already in place. At the very least, that could potentially decrease the frequency of having to walk outside right into a wall of smoke. I hope to see designated smoking areas implemented before I graduate; possibly located in each residence quad and off to the side of the main campus walkway, these would allow smokers to smoke peacefully without impacting on non-smokers.

It’s easy to see why many smokers might object to this. Aside from the debate on whether it’s acceptable to put non-smoker’s rights above smoker’s rights, there is the matter that it gets pretty damn cold in the winter. From this it’s easy to see why smokers do not want to step any farther than they have to before lighting up. I propose that within these smoking areas space heaters be installed. Not only would this make the designated smoking areas warmer, but it would also make them marginally better than current smoking locations.

On the bigger issue of people’s rights, my stance is quite simple. One person’s rights only go to the point at which it interferes with the rights of someone else. A smoker’s right to smoke is only protected up until the point at which it interferes with a non-smoker’s right to not only not smoke, but to not inhale secondhand smoke. That being said, non-smokers would not have the right to be in designated smoking areas without essentially forfeiting their right not to be around smoke. As last week’s column pointed out, Louis Brandeis once said “we have the right to be left alone.” Smok ers do have the right to be left alone—alone to smoke somewhere that doesn’t interfere with the rights of non-smokers.

This would not only improve the barrier that protects the rights of both groups of students, but it would also improve the campus in general. Outside of dormitories and other “preferred” smoking locations, the ground can be covered with cigarette butts and empty packs. Aside from the disgusting display of littering, this would be a chance not only to remove this problem but also prevent this in the future. By regulating where smoking is allowed and placing proper discard receptacles, our campus will additionally look nicer as students will be able to walk to class without having to step on a slew of discarded trash.

The column last week cited the situation at Washington University in St. Louis as an example of why banning smoking on campus would be more of a problem than a solution. In questioning the right of that university to regulate smoking, or rather outright ban smoking, the column neglects a key detail. Private universities have the right to set rules and regulations on their property. We pay large sums of money to attend school at a private university. By attending Brandeis, or any other private school, students effectively consent to an unspoken contract where said school will provide students with a high quality education, and possibly a bed and roof, on the condition that students will abide by the rules and regulations it sets. In this we are much like apartment tenants; we have to abide by the rules the landlord sets forth.

I have never smoked, and I never will. If I could, I would avoid smoke to the fullest extent possible. During winter break the U.S. Surgeon General published research suggesting that secondhand smoke was even more dangerous than most people believe. “There is no risk-free level of exposure,” the report said. While many things we all do throughout the day have risks, smoking is one that many are exposed to without any level of consent. Smokers may have consented to those risks, but I sure as hell didn’t.