By: Lucie Tardif
I don’t think anyone was happier than I when USM established a tobacco-free campus earlier this year. After suffering a blood clot to the lungs and subsequent diagnosis of lupus antiphospholipid antibody syndrome 11 years ago, I was warned by physicians to steer clear of cigarette smoke. Even the close presence of a smoker who has just had a cigarette compromises the health of my lungs.
Referendum Question #3 of the recent student elections asked: “Do you support a University-wide vote on the tobacco ban?” The majority (63%) answered yes. Putting the issue on the ballot implies a student vote could generate a reversal in the policy. This might jeopardize what is now a far more pleasant and healthy environment in which to get an education.
Taking the decision out of university officials’ hands would be unwise. Eliminating smoking on campus is a matter of students’ health and reducing any liability by the university. It should not be subject to popular student vote.
Many smokers are courteous about their habit, but too many are not. They argue a non-smoking policy discriminates against them. They forget, however, that everyone’s right to breathe supersedes their perceived entitlement to smoke.
Smokers certainly can smoke, but not when it undercuts a non-smoker’s essential need to breathe clean air. I avoid it whenever possible because of the threat to my own health. With any form of lupus, according to the Lupus Foundation of America, passive smoking, or regular exposure to secondhand smoke, increases the risk of pneumococcal pneumonia and chronic bronchitis in a nonsmoker.
USM courageously made a prudent decision to ban smoking entirely from its campuses in order to protect the health of all of its students. The policy states “the purpose” is to reduce harm from tobacco use and secondhand smoke, provide an environment that encourages persons to be tobacco-free, reduce health insurance and health care costs and promote a campus culture of wellness.
Certainly adults today are no longer ignorant or unmindful of the dangerous effects of smoking and secondhand smoke. The health hazards of exposure to secondhand smoke are scientifically measurable and therefore nearly impossible to dispute.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, when a nonsmoker breathes in secondhand smoke, the body begins to metabolize or break down the nicotine that was in the smoke. During this process, a nicotine byproduct called cotinine is created. Exposure to nicotine and secondhand smoke can be measured by testing saliva, urine, or blood for the presence of cotinine.”
The CDC declares 400,000 people die annually from their own cigarette smoking. Exposure to secondhand smoke kills 50,000 adult nonsmokers every year and causes an estimated 46,000 deaths annually from heart disease in adult nonsmokers in the U.S. Nonsmokers increase their risk of lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent when exposed to secondhand smoke on a regular basis. That exposure causes an estimated 3,400 deaths from lung cancer in adult nonsmokers.
People like me are sitting ducks. When USM restricted smoking to designated areas outside, I had to map out my entrance to buildings so I could best avoid any wandering smoke. Smokers might stay in one place, but the smoke does not. The fumes waft in different directions even faster than the smoke does.
Nothing prevented smokers from lighting up in other areas of campus, however. The trip to or from Woodbury and classes up the hill in Portland, along the walk or through the parking lot became an obstacle course of dodging smokers passing me. Other than putting as much distance between them and me as possible, I could not avoid inhaling their smoke.
“There is no risk-free level of contact with secondhand smoke; even brief exposure can be harmful to health,” the CDC claims. It declares smoke-free policies at institutions and workplaces improve air quality and health and reduce secondhand smoke and smoking. The U. S. Surgeon General came to the same conclusions.
The university’s policy to ban smoking from its campuses will benefit student, staff, and faculty health for years to come. It is not a decision that should be placed in the hands of students who may decide in favor of a popular idea instead of one that protects the health of the entire USM population.