On April of 2013, it was officially decided by the Committee on College Life that Vassar would ban smoking on its campus in June 2015. There is no doubt that the college’s ban on smoking is a sign of the changing times, as tobacco use among teenagers and young adults has been on a steady decline since the mid-’90s, a shift that is mainly attributed to ’80’s-era programs implemented in middle and high schools to discourage and even villainize tobacco smoking. However, as any Vassar student will tell you, it certainly doesn’t feel this way on campus.
At any given time of day, there is somebody smoking a cigarette outside of the library, Main building or any of the benches around campus. In fact, a survey given out to students before the intended July 2015 ban of smoking on Vassar’s campus was implemented revealed that the majority of students on Vassar’s campus do not think that smoking should be banned on Vassar College property.
So why, then, would the college go forth and enact a ban so clearly unwanted by its students? Health reasons are the obvious answer. But how far should the college go in protecting the student’s health? We are, after all, a campus of adults. Should they next ban unhealthy snacks at the Retreat? Or force all students to take the stairs rather than the elevator?
The majority of our student body is over the age of eighteen, which means that the United States government has deemed us adults and, therefore, fit to make a conscious decision to smoke or not to smoke. While we know the risks, especially thanks to the various programs such as D.A.R.E. and “Just Say No” that many of us were undoubtedly exposed to at some point growing up, we are still able to make these decisions. Smoking tobacco cigarettes at the age of eighteen or older is not illegal, and Vassar College should not implement a campus-wide smoking ban on college property.
Whether you are a smoker or a non-smoker, you probably arrived on Vassar’s campus with at least some form of this health education regarding the dangers of smoking. These programs teach not only the risks of smoking, but also techniques to prevent starting or ways to say no. These programs, instituted in health classes as early as elementary school, have been a fixture in our society for nearly thirty years.
While correctly warning about the dangers that come from regularly smoking cigarettes, these programs almost villainize smoking and the smoker, which perhaps explains many institutions’ need to ban it in such an extreme manner. Since the rise in the implementation of these programs, smoking among young people has decreased significantly.
However, the fact still remains that approximately 30% of all college students regularly use some sort of tobacco product, and at Vassar, this number would seem even higher. While second-hand smoke is a real concern for those of us on campus who choose not to smoke, this is addressed through the possibility of designated smoking areas and boundaries around buildings that are reserved as smoke-free spaces. Programs for those who want to quit are also being offered by the college.
However, the college heard the voices and opinions of the students and did not listen. A poll issued prior to the institution of the ban showed that the majority of Vassar students do not want a smoking ban on Vassar College property.
Despite this apparent attempt by the College to hear and respond to student input, the feedback that students gave was clearly ignored. Yes, smoking cigarettes is unhealthy and has countless negative side effects on one’s body. That is why educational programs instituted in schools from a very young age are beneficial for children and society as a whole as they not only inform people of the health risks, but also serve to prevent teenagers and young adults from even beginning to smoke in the first place.
These tactics have proven to be effective as the number of young people who smoke has never been lower. For those who do choose to smoke, limits on where one can smoke outdoors and in specific smoking areas as well as programs for those looking to quit are also always a good idea.
Despite all of these preventative measures being taken both before and during a student’s time at Vassar, the fact is that cigarettes are legal to smoke at about the age of eighteen, and the college should not implement a ban on an activity that does not directly harm anyone else. We are a student body of adults capable of making these decisions. As a society, we have decided that eighteen is the legal age of adulthood and, therefore, competent decision making, which means that we should be able to choose to engage in a legal activity in a space that would not directly harm anyone else.