In response to Macalester’s tobacco-free policy

The Mac Weekly

In this letter we aim to question the reasoning and motives behind Macalester’s recent campus-wide tobacco-free regulation, a policy made in congruence with a nationwide movement to ban smoking from college campuses. We focus on e-cigarettes as our point of contention — we believe their inclusion reveals an ulterior ideology behind this policy that is more complicated than a general concern for health. We consider three parts of the policy.

1.First we ask, “Why did Macalester go tobacco free?” This is the response provided by Macalester’s “Tobacco Free at Mac” policy webpage:

“The tobacco-free campus policy is part of the college’s commitment to creating a healthy and sustainable environment for all members of our campus community, and is designed to be positive and health directed. In addition to health benefits, benefits of a tobacco-free policy include a reduction in fire hazards and chemicals on campus, creating cleaner grounds and air that support our college sustainability efforts.”

2.The policy implemented January 1, 2015 states:

“For the purpose of this policy, ‘tobacco’ is defined to include any lighted cigarette, cigar, pipe, clove cigarette, hookah smoked products, electronic cigarettes, and any other smoking product; and smokeless or spit tobacco, also known as kip [sic], chew, snuff or snus, in any form.”

3.The policy itself is brief and vague; however, the “Tobacco Free at Mac” webpage expands upon the college’s motive under what is titled “Cessation Resources.” The following is from that page:

Share The Air

“Nicotine is a highly addictive drug found in all forms of tobacco from cigarettes and cigars to chewing tobacco, snuff or hookah. We understand ­— quitting is a hard. So we’re to help you! Macalester College offers a variety of tobacco cessation resources to help students and employees quit.”

Quitting Tips

“The most important thing you can do is plan, plan, plan for your quit day. And change the way you think about quitting. Do not give yourself permission to smoke — be positive. Quitting is hard, so take it one day at a time.

You can do it! Here are some other tips:

• Stay away from alcohol; it’s the biggest reason for failure. Instead, enjoy tobacco-free and alcohol-free activities with your friends. Spend as much time as possible in places where smoking is prohibited.

• Watch your snack and caffeine intake to prevent weight gain and caffeine overdose.

• Make sleep a priority. When you’re quitting smoking you can feel especially tired. Being well rested will give you the resolve to quit and make other healthy choices.

• Symptoms of dehydration could be mistaken for a craving so drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.”

We believe reading these statements in light of their context in Macalester’s policy shows an ideological incongruency in the policy itself that deserves further questioning. We will look at the way the policy diverges with its treatment of e-cigarettes and its list of cessation resources to show the policy’s inconsistencies on both a semantic and an ideological level.

It is important to remember that the slogan of this tobacco-free initiative is “Share the Air.” The incongruity of this policy becomes clear when a concern of second-hand smoke generates regulation regarding second-hand water vapor and smokeless tobacco, which do not create the second-hand smoke effects. Examples of these products include spit tobacco and electronic cigarettes.

However, our problem with this policy goes deeper than an inconsistency in terminology. Moving from the stated policy to “Cessation Resources,” we see the header of the webpage is “Share the Air.” There is then an immediate shift in rhetoric from the discussion of smoking’s passive, external negative health effects to smoking’s internal, addictive agent: nicotine. It becomes apparent that the objective medical justification of second-hand smoke is a guise for a far more complicated, stigma- and trend-driven ideology. The fundamental nature of the problem is that Macalester does not distinguish between tobacco and nicotine, and in turn is effectively conflating objective health concerns with moralistic ideas of addiction — that addiction is morally wrong and has no place in the conscious, sustainable environment of Macalester.

The hypocrisy shines through when considering the inclusion of e-cigarettes in campus-wide restrictions set against an attempt to portray Macalester as an exhaustive resource for the cessation of smoking.

Studies indicate that the use of e-cigarettes to quit smoking is one of the most effective methods available. How is it then possible to justify the fact that Macalester bans e-cigarette usage, an effective method of cessation, in a policy portrayed as an effort to positively affect students’ health? Perhaps worst of all, Macalester’s statements use the rhetoric of other social stigma. “Do not drink alcohol, be conscious of your weight, do not use caffeine, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, exercise,” and so on. Macalester impels modern, media-driven social anxieties through an authoritative policy cloaked as a positive resource for students. It is an aggressive effort to shape the ideological principles of students rather than mold an environment in which personal reflection and context can be used to reach more natural, as well as ideologically and socially unbiased, conclusions.

We are not concerned with an outcome. The aim of this letter is to create a dialogue by bringing attention to this logically-unjustifiable policy that directly governs us, the students and faculty of Macalester. Regardless of one’s feelings about second-hand smoke and second-hand water vapor, Macalester must hold itself to a certain standard of self-examination when forming and enacting policies regarding student life. This moralistic ideology guised as objective concern for health goes against the values of both liberal arts and social justice. It has no place at Macalester.

This article is co-signed by Sarah Lichter, Lucy Woychuk-Mlinac, Devin Bjelland and Jamie Goodin.