A committee of students and faculty is weighing the feasibility of the Northeastern campus going smoke-free. The debate over the policy could not be more important.
Smoking causes about one of every five deaths in the United States each year. Because 90 percent of adult smokers start their habit by age 21, college campuses are arguably the most important battleground in the fight to reduce tobacco-related disease. Indeed, although college smokers say they will quit upon graduation, research shows that the majority of them fail. Sadly, nearly one in 10 college students dies prematurely from tobacco use. In light of these tragic facts, it is imperative that Huskies support a smoke-free campus — a policy that would surely save lives.
In the coming weeks, however, you will no doubt hear from critics of the smoke-free ban. They’ll tell you a smoke-free ban can’t properly be put into place. But 1,130 colleges have already gone smoke-free, including — just a half-mile from Northeastern — three of Harvard’s graduate schools. So unless you think the Crimson are more clever than the Huskies, we can absolutely have a smoke-free campus on Huntington Avenue.
The critics will also argue that a smoke-free campus would deprive us of the freedom of choice. Of course, students can still smoke off campus. On campus, though, Northeastern has a duty to enact policies — from security measures to building codes to health initiatives — that demonstrate concern for the well-being of every student and employee. Also, non-smokers have a right to be free from second-hand smoke, which kills 50,000 Americans annually — three times the number who are murdered.
Finally, the critics will argue that making Northeastern officially smoke-free won’t stop folks from lighting up. As we know, when faced with arguments like this, we can turn away from speculation and to the hard science. And the science disputes the naysayers’ defeatism.
In 2011, researchers at Indiana University found that two years after implementation of a smoke-free campus policy, the smoking rate dropped 22 percent. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers have found that smoke-free campuses “likely provide a more healthful environment for students, staff, faculty and visitors.” And in 2009, University of Montana researchers found that enforcement methods improved the effectiveness of a ban on smoking near buildings.
There are important concerns that Northeastern would punish violators of a ban too harshly. There are also worries that Northeastern’s smoking cessation programs are under-resourced. These reservations demonstrate why a well-designed ban is needed — not why a ban should be opposed. Indeed, Northeastern should redouble its smoking education programs and violators should have the option to attend cessation counseling in lieu of a fine. Students should also have an avenue to appeal violations.
Considering Northeastern’s newfound status as a national leader among universities, we must aggressively fight smoking, the public health emergency of our time. Getting Huskies to commencement tobacco-free is central to promoting the health of our fellow students, peers and friends. Ultimately, our values compel us to make a big move and nothing less.
As former Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis once wrote, “If we would guide by the light of reason, we must let our minds be bold.”
– Lindsey Cei, Chris Stuck-Girard and Amanda White are candidates for Juris Doctor and Master of Public Health, class of 2013, Northeastern University School of Law and Tufts University School of Medicine.