Gary Gould Staff Writer
In the hopes of not being perceived as a heartless asshole for making this argument, let me first point to the relevant reality of my life: I am an ex-smoker. Seeing people around campus smoking is a temptation for me that I struggle with. There are people I love who haven’t been able to kick this awful, life-shortening habit. I have also developed mild asthma. Now that that’s out of the way, let me tell you why the decision to ban smoking outright will hurt the Hampshire community.
If by some miracle, we could magically purge tobacco from the universe, we should jump at the opportunity. Cigarettes are terrible. They are addictive, they kill people, and buying them helps large and shitty corporations become larger and shittier. There’s no debating these facts and taking steps towards diminishing the presence of smoking at our school would be great.
The most incontestable and profound result of this ban would be a reduction in the presence of visible smoking that tempts non-smokers to smoke socially. If students don’t start smoking socially, then they won’t risk developing a physical dependency. As most smokers pick up the habit before the age of 24, this is an important point worth considering.
Even with that compelling argument, an outright ban won’t work at Hampshire. This decision is a result of knee-jerk and irresponsible problem-solving, and is dissonant with Hampshire’s philosophy. I’ll explain why.
How It Was Passed
While Hampshire College takes pride in allowing the student body to have a say in school policy, it strikes me as odd that many students didn’t know about the ban until after we were scheduled to vote on it. In fact, this ban was passed by a committee of around 10 students, hardly a representative sample of the student body. Democracy does not function at such a low level of participation. While we students are partially to blame for being either too lazy or too busy to educate ourselves about Hampshire’s politics, the school must bear the brunt of responsibility for failing to sufficiently publicize such an important and student-centered issue. The turnout was so low either because the school failed to inform us about this vote, or they didn’t want us to hear about it. If the administration was interested they would actively—not passively—seek out the students’ voice.
But what’s done is done, and this is the reality: Hampshire will enact this smoking ban. They have made their final decision despite very little consideration to what planning or implementation of this ban might look like. As a result, only assumptions can be made about what implementation might look like.
Enforcement and Indoor Smoking
Let’s take a look at Hampshire’s similar attempts at enforcement: You can smoke a bowl in the quad without anyone batting an eye. You can confidently sip on a beer while taking a stroll around campus. You can smoke in your room every day for a year and not once get even a warning. These are all actions that are technically outlawed. We are talking about Hampshire students — just because a rule is on paper doesn’t mean anything will change. Perhaps there would be harsh punishments for getting caught smoking, but because of the problem with enforcement at Hampshire, this ban most likely will not actually stop social smoking.
Instead it will merely contribute to a resentful atmosphere amongst students at the off chance they be ‘made an example of’ by a particularly vindictive housing director.
Let’s imagine for a moment that by some unprecedented act of competence on the part of our college, they manage to somehow enforce this ban moderately well, and they succeed in forcing smokers to flee their holy ground: the gazebos. Hell, it wouldn’t be too out of step with the Hampshire’s recent decisions to just tear down the gazebos to discourage smoking. So where will the smokers of Hampshire find refuge? Maybe they will take the time to trek to some reclusive spot where they won’t be bothered, but it’s much more likely that they will just start smoking where they won’t get caught: their rooms.
Contrary to a belief many hold, you don’t have to disable smoke alarms or cover them to not set them off. Smoking in your room is convenient, easy to get away with, and now students who are smokers may be resentful enough not to care. So to anyone with Asthma who is triggered by smoke: this ban means you’re shit out of luck. Chances are that this problem is going to get much, much worse.
Why There Are so Many Smokers At Hampshire
Why is smoking at Hampshire so popular in the first place? Well the pathetic reality is that it is one of the few avenues for meeting new people here. Clubs are limited as to what they can do, and Hampshire’s party scene is so nonexistent that mentioning it is borderline paradoxical. Limited opportunities for meeting people outside of one’s immediate circle are a large contributing factor for both social smoking and drug use at Hampshire. What better excuse to meet new people than sharing the common goal of smoking a butt or a joint out in the quad?
If we wanted to reduce smoking instead of engaging in the waking nightmare of attempting to ban it, maybe the administration can actually try to address the issue of the dark, consuming social void we have here. As this ban arose from a crusade that was supposedly geared towards student wellness, it’s also worth noting that social isolation has been a huge problem for our student’s mental health (and subsequently our retention rates for the pragmatists amongst us).
Banning smoking would be a boot to the squirming remnants of a social scene at Hampshire, but perhaps for the virtuous goal of protecting the students from themselves, making them miserable is an acceptable casualty.
Is This Right?
I’ve prioritized highlighting how irresponsible this decision was over any moral implications of this ban, but they are pretty straightforward. Denying students the freedom to engage in an unhealthy—but legal—activity seems to go against the values we as a community try to maintain. Allowing people to make their own lifestyle choices without passing judgment seems to almost be a core tenant in Hampshire’s ideology, but perhaps there are some instances where our values should be compromised in order to protect student welfare.
However, if our policy is to police student’s personal lives under the banner of health, I see no possible argument for why Hampshire doesn’t also immediately ban the presence of soft drinks and alcohol on campus. Perhaps you enjoy these things, but statistically, they have a largely negative effect on health and safety. If you object to that argument, you might be able to understand smokers’ point of view. I see no justice in defending the rights of drinkers (of alcohol or sugar) but not of smokers.
Putting morality aside, I believe that marginalizing a large group of students is a cost that should be avoided if at all possible. Which brings me to my next point:
This Should Be A Last Resort…But It Isn’t
There is an attitude that the ban is a last resort because enforcing the ‘smoking x number of feet away’ from the building rule has failed. But if a no-smoking policy could be theoretically enforced, why isn’t the next logical step to enforce consequences for smoking indoors or near entrances? In terms of reducing smoking, maybe we could try to fight against smoking with something other than scattered paper-flyers showcasing a few lame statistics. Maybe we could try to provide sufficient counseling and see if that helps. To me it seems that alleviation is preferable to inquisition if at all possible.
It seems futile to argue for the welfare of smokers on campus since the attitude of the ban seems to be “fuck-em”, but for some, cigarettes are a means of self-medication, and they will struggle if that’s taken away from them. I suppose welfare of the tar-lungs must be sacrificed for the good of the whole. Then again it’s only a sacrifice “for the good of the whole” if you don’t mind the removal of all cigarette-receptacles, the subsequent rise of litter on campus, as well as an increased chance of indoor and outdoor fires, and of course more fire alarms.
If the ban can somehow be enforced it will do little more than create a negative atmosphere around campus and become an excuse for people to smoke inside. The amount of enforcement we’d need to make even a noticeable difference with the ban it would drain more of Hampshire’s meager funding, and will probably come out of tuition, which for a school struggling financially this seems like it should be far from a priority. To many students, including myself, these drawbacks outweigh the potential benefits, but the administration would appear to think our opinions are of little value and our desires even less so. All things considered, it’s hard not to wonder if this ban was less for our welfare and more for the public image of the college. Maybe this is something we should be angrier about.