Smokers across the United States have watched as the number of places where they are allowed to practice their habit has steadily shrunk.
Depending on where you live, office buildings, airports, restaurants and bars are now entirely smoke-free. Fifty years ago, tobacco smoke was an unavoidable feature of your indoor environment. Today, non-smoking reminders in entranceways to public places can be a bit redundant.
Prohibiting smoking indoors or in airplanes, for instance, makes a whole lot of sense. Putting public health issues aside, not even smokers would enjoy standing next to the guy who decided to light up for a long elevator ride. Though the issue of bans in bars remains somewhat touchy, smokers accept that the first step for any cigarette break is to take it outside.
But when it comes to outdoor smoking bans, the debate over what is a fair and necessary policy is surely more complicated.
Last week, the trustees of the City University of New York opted to enact an outdoor smoking ban on all 23 of the system’s campuses. According to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, four SUNY schools — including Upstate Medical University and SUNY Buffalo — have also acted to prohibit smoking on campus. In total, 466 schools across the country are now, or soon will be, 100 percent smoke-free.
There is no word of any official contemplation of a ban at Binghamton University, but this tobacco-prohibition trend certainly hasn’t escaped the attention of our administrators. Binghamton University already prohibits smoking within 25 feet of any campus building. This type of rule isn’t universal — Columbia University instituted a 20-foot rule in December — and according to a Pipe Dream survey conducted in the last week (see “BU forgoes national trend of banning smoking”), many non-smokers at BU would be in favor of a blanket ban on campus.
For us, this is a question of where to draw lines in the sandbox of regulation. We think it’s fair and necessary to regulate smoking. Obviously. We think it’s fair and necessary to make smokers step outside and walk 25 feet before enjoying a cigarette. But we think that campus-wide smoking bans are both unfair and unnecessary. We think these types of bans are examples of over-regulation.
They’re unfair because, at least on residential campuses like SUNY Buffalo, they don’t allow people to smoke where they live. And they’re unnecessary because regulations like the 25-feet rule — which ostensibly allows smokers to smoke without endangering or seriously irritating non-smokers — effectively solve all of the second-hand smoke problems that a campus-wide ban would. These kinds of prohibitions don’t target second-hand smoke, they target first-hand smokers. In essence, they turn something that is perfectly legal into a punishable offense.
On the other hand, many smokers openly violate fair regulation of their habit. On this campus, the 25-feet rule is enforced to much the same degree as jaywalking. Non-smokers hate to experience unwanted smoke while opening a door or when it flows through an open window. They shouldn’t have to. And with current levels of enforcement, it’s a matter of courtesy for smokers to actually make sure that they are not irritating others. But it’s tough to regulate courtesy — there’s no law prohibiting open-mouthed-chewing within 25 feet of dining halls.