News’ View: Kill the smoking ban

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.


  • The Anti-Yale

    This is tough one. The ***freedom to kill yourself v. the right to breathe fresh air*** —-or as “fresh” as our polluted society cares to make it.

    I gave up trying to persuade my parents to stop smoking. A heart attack at 68 ended it for my father who lived 10 more years (1992). My mother never stopped and died at 73 (1985). They both had smoked for half a century. Each. The Surgeon general’s report came out in 1964.

    Woolsey Hall lobby during New Haven Symphony breaks; the Divinity School Common Room; the Streets of New Haven: behind thier own steering wheels (is lighting a cigarette less dangerous than text messaging behind a steering wheel?): they puffed away.

    Literally away.

  • b

    Has the YDN read the proposal? I haven’t, but in light of that I’m not ready to call it ‘poorly conceived’ and imply all sorts of things (someone walking down Elm can’t smoke). I have seen proposals at other schools and cities and usually it’s a well-conceived plan to take a stand, increase resources and aid for those quitting, and apply a little bit of pressure. And while certainly some are against such plans, the majority of smokers are for it. Especially these days, as smoking isn’t cheap and it does adversely impact health.

    Talking to three smokers I know here, they were all in favor of quitting, and have simply found the challenge of doing so to be too difficult without some help. Hopefully this workgroup will offer them that help.

    I’d encourage the YDN to get a copy of any proposal or pre-proposal and post it so we can all read it and draw our own conclusions.

  • roflairplane

    “And while certainly some are against such plans, the majority of smokers are for it.”


  • Frashizzle

    1. Smoking creates an externality (second-hand smoke). To claim that smokers should be allowed to smoke because smoking most heavily affects the smoker is similar to claiming that factories should be allowed to pollute because pollution most heavily affects the factory. No one should have the freedom to harm others.
    2. The outrage expressed in this article is unwarranted. Yale and New Haven are far behind the cutting-edge in terms of anti-smoking legislation. There exists more than sufficient precedent for the university to ban smoking.
    3. In regard to the 4th paragraph, Yale should not control the city of New Haven. However, Yale SHOULD have a sphere of influence in downtown New Haven. That’s because it’s a college in a medium-to-small city. Yale’s ~12,000 students LIVE in New Haven (we aren’t just rude house guests). The fact that we make-up about ~10% of the city’s population should give us a bit of influence over our metaphorical shady half-acre. Our campus is our campus because it’s our campus. It’s ours. We live here. Does the city own your house? Should the city dictate whether your houseguests take off their shoes before entering because it might be an inconvenience?
    If the Yale administration can create its own sphere of influence in downtown New Haven, good! That just means that the administration represents enough people to have influence! (The after all, it is the collective voice of 10% of the population).
    4. If smokers have a right to smoke, then I shall claim that I have a right to fresh air.
    5. “More fundamentally, to believe that it would actually stop smokers from getting their fix is ridiculous.”
    I DON’T CARE if smokers get their fix. Smoking bans generally decrease overall exposure to second-hand smoke.

  • bhilly

    “to believe that it would actually stop smokers from getting their fix is ridiculous.”

    A smoking ban might not stop all current student smokers from smoking, but it would stop smokers from coming to Yale. Just think, four years from now Yale could have a virtually smoke-free student body. And the ban would be a draw for non-smoking prospective students. When I was applying to colleges, I always put “smoke-free campus” in the pro column.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Yale ” . . . would carve out an illegal and unethical sphere of influence over downtown New Haven”.

    It’s not illegal, nor is it unethical, but it is inhospitable: Yale has long “carved out a sphere of influence over down town New Haven” by its towering architecture of Medieval majesty and Renaissance regality, much of which is turned INWARD, fortress like, as if to make it clear that inhabitants of the city are OUTSIDERS, especially if they come from impoverished neighborhoods within spitting distance of that palatial architecture.


    If I wanna smoke a cig, I’m gonna smoke a cig.