On Thursday, this newspaper was dismayed to learn that the Yale administration is considering banning smoking on campus. The proposal is premature, infantilizing and wrongheaded. Creating a “Tobacco Free Yale Workgroup” before even surveying the student population shows a deep disregard of student opinion. After three semesters, the committee has done practically nothing; now the Yale community is aware of a deeply troubling proposal, one that we should promptly and vigorously oppose. At a university whose proportion of off-campus students already dwarfs other Ivies’, such a policy would only serve as yet another needless, alienating restriction.
And what of enforcement? Would a student caught smoking in Lanman-Wright Courtyard be arrested by a Yale Police Department officer? Sent to the Executive Committee? Imposing such a ban would be onerous, impracticable and a waste of resources. More fundamentally, to believe that it would actually stop smokers from getting their fix is ridiculous.
While the administration’s emphasis on helping potential quitters is commendable, a focus on health cannot outstrip a basic respect for the autonomy of the student population. Yalies over the age of 18 have a legal right to buy and consume tobacco products, from a toxic cigarette to a redolent cigar. Yes, most residential colleges rightly prohibit smoking indoors or near food preparation areas. But who is the Yale administration to tell a 20-year-old student that he cannot enjoy a legal smoking break? Or one of Yale’s valued dining staff, at the end of his or her workday? Or worst of all, a New Haven resident, walking down Elm Street?
Perhaps this last example is the most troubling. By turning Yale into a smoke-free campus, the University would carve out an illegal and unethical sphere of influence over downtown New Haven, damaging town-gown relations and disrespecting our fellow citizens. Why would we make our employees and fellow citizens feel unwelcome on our campus, especially when sidewalks remain public property. How do we define “our campus”? We are integrated into this city. If the administration wishes to ban tobacco in classrooms, dining halls and common rooms, fine — although to say that rampant smoking in these areas is a pervasive problem would stretch the imagination. Regardless, leave our sidewalks and courtyards alone. Leave the decision to smoke to individuals.
Consider Yale’s traditional policy toward drinking. Recognizing that underage drinking is impossible to root out, the administration has long pursued a tolerant policy that emphasizes safety over punishment. Instead of initiating a futile Prohibition, administrators offer the help of FroCos to sloshed freshmen and medical treatment to all the drunk students who show up at Yale HEALTH’s door — no questions asked. The University balances a concern for our health with practicality. And, unlike smoking, alcohol is illegal for a large proportion of undergraduates.
Part of what makes our college years at Yale so bright is the freedom the University affords us. It respects us to choose responsibly, and steps in to lend a hand when we make mistakes; it treats us like adults. We are a community that values personal choice. Quitting smoking is tough, and Yale HEALTH should increase and improve its assistance programs. But an outright ban on smoking would be counterproductive, sending tobacco use underground and damaging Yale’s relationship with its students and its city. This newspaper urges that the administration reconsider its poorly conceived proposal, and remember the values for which it is often and rightly commended.