Smoking ban right choice for campus

The University of Alabama’s upcoming ban on smoking will undoubtedly be the subject of some controversy. Announced Tuesday, this ban will affect almost everywhere on campus and prohibit both ordinary and e-cigarettes. And for once, our administration deserves congratulations for making the best decision for its students, controversy notwithstanding.

The benefits of this measure range from the obvious to the obscure. From freshman to senior year, the percentage of students who smoke rises by approximately 10 percent; a smoking ban will promote health by curbing this growth. In addition, the ban will protect students indirectly by reducing exposure to secondhand smoke. It’ll also beautify our campus by reducing litter and will improve public opinion by bringing the University’s health standards in line with over 1,400 other campuses across the country.

For some, these benefits aren’t enough. An AL.com survey showed that a majority of readers opposed a campus smoking ban. A 2013 Health and Wellness survey showed divided feelings within the student body. And even the SGA has been hesitant to show support for a smoking ban. To many of these individuals, a smoking ban constitutes an unjustified breach of personal rights. This is understandable, given that the ban appears to tell students how to care for their own 
personal health.

But what makes this issue more complicated is the factor of secondhand smoke. According to the University of California, secondhand smoke kills over 40,000 people per year, none of whom made the choice to take up smoking. While members of a free society do have the right to risk our own health, we don’t have the right to jeopardize others in doing so. This shifts the focus of the smoking debate from individual rights to 
community rights.

Some might argue that old campus smoking policies protected nonsmokers, but these rules were so 
inconsistently and inadequately enforced that they were meaningless. It’s heartening to see our administrators recognize this reality and act on it, when they could have denied responsibility by citing the rules on the books.

The only real disappointment in all this is that exceptions have been made for Greek organizations. There’s no logical reason why a health bill that applies everywhere, from dorms to stadiums to parking lots, is less necessary in Greek houses. I understand the amount of influence alumni wield over this campus, but our leaders could at least try to keep up the pretense of impartiality.

Even with that caveat, kudos to administrators for making a genuinely courageous decision. It’s good to see that there are some situations where our leaders will put students first – not because it’s popular, but because 
it’s right.

Nathan James is a senior majoring in psychology. His column runs weekly. 

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