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Brandeis needs designated smoking areas

Every day, when walking across campus, I invariably walk through at least one cloud of cigarette smoke. Despite official rules requiring students to move more than 30 feet away from buildings before lighting up, because of the convenience of lighting up right outside the door, people regularly smoke right outside of most buildings on campus. During times of rain, snow, or cold, this problem becomes even worse. The current regulatory system for nicotine use on campus has failed, and we need to try something new.

It’s no longer contested that smoking has serious health impacts: it decreases life expectancy, increases risk of cancer and heart disease, to name a few. Given that, Brandeis ought take steps to deter people from smoking wherever possible, even if students do freely choose to smoke. Brandeis already has classes to help students succeed in other aspects of their life, so we ought also encourage healthy living strategies. More importantly, second hand smoke also has real health impacts and can also lead to all the health problems listed above. Unlike smokers, non-smokers do not consent to these harms, and it’s nearly impossible to avoid at least some second hand inhalation on campus.

To an extent, this problem is driven by not taking smoking seriously on campus. We focus heavily on drug safety as a school, but tend not to focus on cigarettes as closely as substances like alcohol or marijuana. For instance, our Alcohol and Other Drug Program fails to address smoking in any meaningful way on its website, despite the addictive nature of the activity. This isn’t to say nicotine is “worse” than other drugs or deserves special attention, but it is underrecognized in many discussions of safe campus life. Moreover, the university seems to tacitly allow smoking by failing to properly enforce rules. In fact, the installation of ash trays outside Goldfarb Library and Mandel, both closer to their buildings than 30 feet, makes it seem as if the rule is merely perfunctory.

Realistically, though, even with a firm commitment from the administration, current rules about smoking will never be enforced in the future. For students, there’s intense social pressure not to complain to fellow students about their behavior, and even telling someone to move is unlikely to be successful. Moreover, the lack of clearly defined boundaries means students don’t exactly know where people should and should not smoke anyway. Most ashtrays on campus are located closer than 30 feet to a building, and their location signals to students that those are proper places to smoke. These factors mean students cannot meaningfully self-regulate.

Top down enforcement of the 30-foot rule is also unlikely to work. I have no idea if campus police or other adults instruct people to move when they’re standing too close to a building; as a non-smoker, I’ve never had to deal with this situation. Even if they do, however, the threat of “being caught” is simply too small to change behavior.

Rules matter because we use them to deter action; personally, I have no interest in getting people in trouble for smoking and would just prefer they smoked somewhere else. The lax Brandeis rules don’t deter anyone because there’s no reason to follow them.

Designated smoking areas would make it easier to enforce rules by setting clearer social norms around smoking. When there is a place you “should” smoke, it is easier for students to tell each other to move, and adults on campus are more likely to take notice of these rules. We can better isolate students who smoke from non-smokers and cut down on the effects secondhand smoke. We can even distribute anti-smoking literature at these locations to educate students on the impacts of smoking and resources available at Brandeis to help people quit.

It’s easy to pretend smoking is a dying habit, and with time this problem will just go away, but this tragically unlikely to be true. The problems with smoking at Brandeis is nothing new: A relatively similar opinion piece appeared in The Hoot in 2011. The fact that six years later nothing has changed shows just how systemic of a problem this is for our university. Realistically, for most of us all that happens is an annoying smell of smoke every now and then on campus. However, for the student who does develop a lung cancer or has an asthma attack because of a practice Brandeis could work to limit, the impacts are massive. Brandeis should expand and improve smoking rules by assigning designated smoking areas in order to protect the health of Brandeis students, including those who don’t smoke.

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