Face-off #1: Smoking ban

Alice Kinsella and Rachel Graham duke it out over whether College should follow UCD’s lead and ban smoking on-campus.

Alice: You’re rushing to a lecture and the doorway is, as usual, shrouded with smokers, you’re inhaling their dirt and they’re making you late. What’s the solution you ask? Ban them! Why not? Let’s be rid of them! Then everything will be hunky dory. Makes sense right? Alas, it does not. But this is what is being proposed with the smoking ban. Many think it will work; I however, am not one of those people. For smokers are people too, and once rejected from the skulking corners of the arts block doorways, they will be redirected to the rest of the world. In hoards the smokers will migrate, like refugees they will scuttle in their tweed coats and wayfarers to the nearest available open space, ready to once more take up their instinctive habit of jauntily inhaling 2 quick rollies in between lectures. So the smokers have a new place, out of our hair, right? Oh no, the arts block and front gate seem to have been transformed into a smoggy cloud of disgruntled students. A sea of bitterness big enough to swallow up the tourists in their matching back packs and bring Nassau street bus lane to a halt. Doesn’t this seem ludicrous? Surely the security would put this in order? What’s that smokers? The college doesn’t have security that has nothing better to do than move you all along? Then why not just smoke back on campus? Oh, that’s what you’re going to do anyway after a week of chaos and someone almost getting hit by a bus? Right… good plan!

Rachel: What’s that? There’s going to be some pragmatic difficulties in implementing a radical health-policy change on campus? Ah sure let’s just stay as we are so, that sounds like a bit too much effort for your average rollie-smoking, hungover arts student cradling a large coffee on their way to their first (12pm) lecture. The popular arguments against a campus smoking ban are little more than disgruntled cries of “but we like smoking!” shrouded in smug remarks about practical challenges. The often witty, ironic tone one sees these complaints made in on social network platforms just screams of the jaded, too-cool-for-school, and ultimately kind of lazy attitude that seems to infest college life. Yes, people on the pro-smoking ban side of the argument know that smokers are people too. But what you’re missing, smokers, is that non-smokers are also people too. And non-smokers might not want to breathe in your cancerous fumes as they go about their college day. Sounds fair enough, surely? The surprising fact of the matter is that even in the face of overwhelming evidence of the very serious, very real health-risks associated with second-hand smoke, it remains somewhat “uncool” to actually acknowledge them, or to care about whether or not you are subjected to them. That is a silly state of affairs. Frankly, we should care more about providing college students with a smoke-free environment to spend their working days in, and giving them to ability to choose whether or not to expose themselves to the dangers of second-hand smoke, than we should about allowing people to have a handy place to grab a quick smoke between lectures.

Alice: Smokers usually spend all their time trying to tempt you to the dark side right? Em no, in case you haven’t noticed smokers don’t follow non-smokers around puffing aggressively in their faces. Smokers are usually just standing outside, minding their own business.You don’t want to breathe in smoke? Then don’t hang out with smokers. Believe it or not smokers don’t crowd the doorway, as being stomped on by people milling in and out of the building is no fun. Smokers sit by the grass, or on benches, away from the stampede of students running to class. If the smoking ban is brought in you will still have to walk through the cloud of smoke at the entrances to campus. And yes, it will become clouds of smoke as every smoker in college is forced into two tiny doorways. At least on Campus, our large, outdoor campus, people are free to disperse. People are not forced to walk into them. But if the smokers migrate outside they will become even more prominent, the campus will be almost inaccessible and you will most certainly be unable to get in and out without inhaling plumes of smoke straight from the mouths of others. And as we know, that’s bad for you!

Rachel: A smoking ban is about more than the practical issue of trying to ensure as little second hand smoke goes into each non-smokers lungs as possible in the short-term. A smoking ban is about making the statement that it is not OK for people to pollute the air of others’ work / study environments. It is about trying to achieve better air quality. It is about trying to change the attitude of complacency that surrounds health-issues and the tackling of them. It is about gradually changing our society from one in which smoking is seen as so much the norm that limiting people’s ability to do it when and wherever they like to the detriment of others sparks outrage, to one in which it is seen as for what it is: incredibly physically damaging, highly addictive, and a great cost to the personal lives of smokers, to their families, and to the healthcare system. Smoking remains the biggest cause of preventable death in Ireland, as well as being something a huge percentage of people regret taking up. While I have absolutely no problem with people who smoke, or smoking in and of itself, it’s clearly not something we want to encourage in our society. Campus smoking bans obviously won’t be perfect – but they are the next step in challenging the flippant attitude towards smoking in Ireland that is the main reason so many young people fall into a habit from which they will suffer avoidable health-problems and ultimately regret.

Alice: So it’s for the greater good, the smoking ban, it may force people to behave as they don’t want to, but in the end it’s for their own good. The ban is against pollution? You know what also pollutes the air? Cars. Are we going to ban them next? Yes people like not having to walk everywhere but really do we have the right to pollute the air of the city in which other people work and live? Who cares about how our actions affect people right now, this is the future we’re talking about, people right now may have to suffer and be forced into not acting as they’d chose themselves, but the future! It’s time to remember that these are grown adult citizens we’re talking about. They have the right to choose how they treat their own bodies. It is not the responsibility of the college to take charge of every aspect of the lives of its students. We can’t ban everything that’s bad for us. Even if we do think it’s what’s best for everyone. People can take charge of their own lives and how they prioritise what’s good or bad for them. We just have to let them.

Rachel: Yep, it’s for the greater good. Just like most decisions made in democracies, the goal is utilitarian, and not to maximize individual liberty; if the TCD smokers are raging anarchists I don’t think I can do much to challenge their views within the scope of this debate. At the end of the day, you have to look at what it is that motivates people to smoke. That, too, is just a result of the societal conditions that they’re brought up in. When you’re fourteen, standing in the back lane behind your school, being offered your first cigarette – you probably don’t take it because you have a burning desire to inhale a thousand toxic chemicals into your innocent lungs. You take it because the culture you’re surrounded by tells you it’s cool, you take it because everyone else in the lane is doing it, and you take it because if everyone does it, surely it couldn’t be as bad for you as they say, could it? By creating a society in which smoking is seen is less acceptable, that is less likely to happen – and acting now to create conditions in which that largely passive and normative passing-on of a dangerous habit happens less is a good thing. For those who really want to smoke – no one’s stopping you. You just can’t do it everywhere.

Alice: If it’s a decision that will have an effect on everyone then the greater good is a feasible option, but banning smoking on campus will only affect smokers. The level of smoke from other smokers you actually come in contact with is no more than you get on the street. If banned on campus it will do nothing more than restricting the liberty of those adults who are old enough to make their own decisions. If you want to ban people from smoking outside to stop it motivating young people you’re a bit late. At 14 it is illegal to smoke but by the time you’re in college you’re an adult, and if you’re still so insecure about your own person that you smoke because it’s ‘cool’ then you should probably be taking a look at things. You say no one is stopping you smoke, but the campus ban is the first step towards that. First it was indoors, now it’s outside, soon it will be all public spaces. This level of intervention in the private lives of others is overly controlling and condescending. Soon we’ll be banning everything that isn’t good for us. Wave goodbye to alcohol guys, and don’t get me started on saturated fats. The information and help is available for those that want to quit, but short of employing someone to follow smokers around snapping their cigarettes there’s not really too much more to do. It’s time to back off and let people make their own decisions.

Rachel: Well, no, banning smoking on campus will affect everyone – the smokers just won’t like it. The fact that the level of second hand smoke you encounter in college is about the same level you encounter on the street, is not a reason not to go ahead with the ban – all that means is that people could potentially have to inhale that amount less of it; hurray! There is nothing “too late” about banning smoking in colleges – the effect it will have won’t be confined to the grounds of Trinity. Smoking is a societal habit and if you tackle it at any level there is a knock on effect down the line. And on the topic of people taking up smoking because they think it’s ‘cool’ – people do things largely because of example. There is absolutely no doubt that that is a huge motivator for smoking among adolescents and yes, even young adults. That’s not a reason to decry those people for being insecure – it’s a reason to cut down on the ubiquity of the example that makes that happen. Advocating a campus smoking ban is not advocating that the state micro-manage our lives down to the level of telling us how many cream-buns we can eat; it is advocating a policy that supports cleaner, healthier study environments and tries to tackle the epidemic of smoking, which is the cause of ninety percent of lung cancer cases and kills 7000 people in Ireland every year. Come on, let’s stop moaning about our sacred right to our vices, and do something about it.