When I was 15, my mother’s sometime boyfriend visited us on our vacation in Wildwood, NJ. We had not seen each other since I was a baby, and none of us knew what to expect. He entered the door to our ocean-view motel room, walked to the kitchen table, and placed on it a Cuban cigar and a bottle of vintage port. “Tonight, Michael,” he told me, “we’re going to make you a man.” Together, the three of us sat on our balcony, sipped our port, and shared in one of the greatest joys available to us on this earth.
I shared this story last month, as I sat in New York’s Grand Havana Room with former mayor Rudy Giuliani. “Fifteen, huh?” replied Giuliani. “I was 11.”
There is no finer equalizer than the hand-rolled, long-filler cigar. Some of the most important conversations in my life have taken place with friends, family and complete strangers in a warm bath of smoke. At Yale, I have had the privilege of blowing smoke with students, professors, politicians and administrators. Together, we partake in a vice, which — when compared to the other evils of this world — seems not so bad after all. And this mild indulgence in turn puts a small crack in the artifice and formality that sometimes infect our social interactions.
Yesterday, I took a moment to appreciate the beauty of the winter’s sun shining down upon Davenport courtyard with a Padron 1964 Anniversario and a copy of the News. Unfortunately, my moment of joy and contemplation was cut short when I read the headline of the day: “Yale mulls smoke-free campus.”
I gently chuckled. Surely, the university that hosts a biennial meet-and-greet with masochistic pornstars and a fetish fashion show featuring its own 18-year-old girls and boys wearing leather dental floss would not think its students incapable of personal choice.
The university that subsidizes its students’ alcohol-induced comas at events (also university-sponsored) like Safety Dance and Spring Fling could not object to the occasional relaxing and reinvigorating smoke. With bullets flying through the streets of New Haven and inboxes filling with daily reports by our overworked police chief, Ronnell Higgins, who would not waste valuable resources on an unenforceable and unnecessary ban.
Alas, I was wrong. As the News reports, the Tobacco Free Yale Workgroup “has been meeting intermittently over the past three semesters to discuss the impact of a smoking ban on the Yale community.” While the committee’s title and stated goal seems to stack the deck in this debate against cigarette smokers and cigar and pipe enthusiasts, Dean Marichal Gentry assured the News, “We all need to consider how the policy is going to affect the people who smoke.”
This seemingly more inclusive motive is difficult to believe, however, as the committee has not once contacted a single member of the Society for Intellectual Growth and Reinvigoration (SIGAR), the only organization for smokers on Yale’s campus, to discuss “how the policy is going to affect the people who smoke.” SIGAR comprises students, faculty, staff and administrators. The organization was founded in 2008, over a year before the Tobacco Free Yale Workgroup was formed.
The Tobacco Free Yale Workgroup does not seek to assess the desirability, feasibility or legality of the proposed smoking ban. Instead, it seeks to resurrect early 20th century Prohibition in a new millennium. It hopes to push the men and women of Yale who enjoy an occasional smoke out of the comfort of their residential colleges and onto unsafe sidewalks and streets.
Smokers and cigar enthusiasts have conceded every indoor space at Yale to the anti-smoking activists. Although the British Medical Journal concluded that the results of a 38 year study “do not support a causal relation between environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality,” smokers respect that some faculty members and students do not enjoy the smell of smoke, and so we indulge our hobby in the rain, sleet and snow.
As with many such concessions, we have given the anti-smoking activists our pinky fingers, and they have taken our whole, tobacco-clutching hands. But make no mistake: we will not give up the open air and the cold, damp plots of land that constitute our last semblance of rights or dignity. The Tobacco Free Yale Workgroup is free to make whatever decision it likes. Regardless, the smokers and cigar enthusiasts will continue to enjoy one of life’s most basic pleasures, and the malcontent faculty members behind the ban will be welcome to peer down at reality from their small, petty, ivory offices and frown.
Michael Knowles is a junior in Davenport College and the president of SIGAR International.