Smoking isn't private

By Anna Rockne

I would like to respond to Andrew Pragacz and Rachel Colberg-Parseghian’s Feb. 25 editorials about the smoking policy discussion. According to Denise Ward, Associate Dean for Student Services, the smoking policy task force includes current smokers, former smokers and those who have never smoked. The task force will conduct a survey of the entire Macalester community to learn more about tobacco use and perceptions and make the data available. Ideally the campus can have a conversation that is respectful of all views, Ward said. It is important to note that there is a gap between perceived and actual cigarette smoking on campus, according to the College Health Assessment conducted last spring. At Macalester, 22 percent of students reported smoking a cigarette in the past 30 days, and only eight percent reported smoking 10or more cigarettes in that time, but students perceived that 82 percent had smoked in the past 30 daysTo respond to Rachel’s assertion that a smoking ban would be the equivalent of criminalizing a private behavior: I really wish smoking were a private behavior, but cigarette smoke drifts into others’ lungs and harms their health. No one in the United States is obligated to make accommodations for a behavior that that causes illness and death for those exposed to it. Society has the right to regulate behaviors that harm public health. Choices we make about our health are very personal.

I would also argue that this discussion about changing the smoking policy does not criminalize smokers. It simply acknowledges something we’ve known about cigarettes for years – exposure to secondhand smoke poses a health risk. If the Macalester community chooses to restrict smoking on campus, I believe it would have more to do with the fact that tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and illness in the US, and less to do with concerns about Macalester’s image. The discussion about the smoking policy was spurred by the recent State Heath Improvement grants, which provided funding for organizations to counter the two greatest health risks in Minnesota: smoking and obesity. This discussion isn’t a fundraising ploy.

In response to Andrew’s editorial, I would argue that it is a stretch to label smokers as marginalized group – in fact, smoking poses an especially high risk to certain marginalized groups including children, the elderly, and individuals with certain disabilities. I would also argue that the activity of smoking IS choice-based. Andrew suggested that smokers could be more considerate of others when they light up on campus. I would love to see this happen. What would this look like? Perhaps there is a place where smokers can have a cigarette on campus away from high-traffic areas so those who do not want to be exposed to smoke can avoid it. I hope this discussion can lead to a healthy compromise.

Anna Rockne can be reached at [email protected].