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Rebuttal: Smoking Ban Neglects Issue of Addiction

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Olivia S. Mata

     Last week’s article supporting a tobacco-free Albany campus, supplemented by fines for smokers, is noble at best. But at its worse, it neglects the reality of smoking: it’s an addiction. This is nobody’s fault. Our reluctance to look at smoking as an addiction is the result of advertising campaigns not only meant to deceive the public about health risks, but to encourage the view that smoking is a choice. But like most addictions, it’s not. So how can a campus protect the health of its students, smoker and non-smoker alike? It is certainly not purely by fining or banning smoking, the logistics of which are comical.

    Who will police the campus? Will paying for extra staff be allocated from our tuition, or added on in the following semesters? Will students be subjected to an “If you see something, say something” campaign? Will students be written tickets in front of their peers? Will ticketing cause a student to be late for class just because they took a quick puff before entering the building?  Or will Albany become another smoke-free campus not by enforcement, but by principle?

    It’s terrible that non-smokers suffer from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, but smokers themselves, in the grips of an addiction are far sicker. I feel for the non-smoker, whose poor air accounts for 10 percent of smoking-related death and disease, but in New York State’s Constitution, Article XVII Section 3 is about ensuring the health of all inhabitants of the State of New York, smokers included. With smoking as the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, the effort to protect the health of students should be first directed at helping smokers quit.

    The Center for Disease Control has reported that nearly 7 out of 10 college-aged smokers and half of all smokers of any age have attempted to quit at some point. The New York State quitline receives thousands of calls, and the percentage of former smokers is rising. The willingness is there; steps on campus should be directed at creating lasting numbers of former student smokers by utilizing resources already in place. If the University at Albany enforces a campus-wide ban on either smoking or tobacco, it’ll just be in principle. Campus programs to fine and ban smoking have had mixed results, and are only part of a fully comprehensive method to reduce smoking across the board.

    If fines are created to punish addicts, let those fines go towards creating a space in Student Health Services for smokers who want to quit and provide nicotine patches, gum and lozenges, and vouchers for Chantix for students. Our school should be doing this anyway as students can (and will) still get their nicotine in the form of smokeless tobacco, which is known to cause a variety of oral cancers and disease. These forms of tobacco have virtually no effect on the health of the nonsmoker, but still contribute to the same cancers and disease in tobacco users. It looks like overall, to reduce the amount of secondhand smoke and protect the health of all students, efforts should be made to encourage an addicted student to be tobacco free.

    New York Quits provides free starter packs of patches and gum to aid in smoking cessation and overall tobacco use. A smoker or a chewer can call just to talk to someone. The best place for our campus to start in reducing smoking on campus isn’t a fine or a ban. It’s by adding the hotline phone number to the Community Resources page on the Student Health Services section of our website. The number is 1-(866)-697-8487.

1 Comment

  1. Tess
    March 20, 2018 at 1:50 pm — Reply

    Hi, Olivia.
    I couldn’t agree more that cessation help should be made as available and accessible as possible to all members of the campus community who wish to quit. And I like your idea to direct funds to FDA approved cessation aids such as nicotine replacement therapy. But offering smokers quit help doesn’t solve the problem of non-smokers being exposed to secondhand smoke and electronic device aerosols, or the effects of non-combustible tobacco waste that is toxic to the environment and to the maintenance staff responsible to clean it up. Moreover, creating a tobacco-free environment is one of the best ways to support individual quit efforts by eliminating relapse triggers such as seeing people smoking, taking smoking breaks with friends, etc. The most effective way to protect the health of all members of the campus community is to maximize the available cessation help and create a tobacco-free environment to help quitters be successful in their quit efforts.

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