I’m all for the right of self-determination, despite being fully aware that, for some, this amounts to self-destruction. As every parent of a teenager discovers, people will do what they want to do, sometimes irrespective of the best-intentioned advice to the contrary. This drive to make decisions as an autonomous individual is an integral part of the maturation process, and it is inevitable that some of these decisions will be bad ones. We’ve all been there, and we understand.
Some decisions, though, are simply too foolish to fall under the heading of growing pains. They are irresponsible and deliberately harmful, and their impact can fall far beyond the realm of the self. In today’s world, the decision of a well-informed person to start smoking falls squarely into this category, yet a staggering number of highly intelligent, undeniably educated Yalies with all the promise in the world choose to corrupt their young lung tissues with the tar of cigarette smoke.
Even if these Yalies did not reap the benefits of a high-school health education program that taught about the hazards of smoking, the risks should be self-evident to anyone who has ever held a box of cigarettes — graphic images of tracheotomy patients, malignant oral lesions and even cadavers are now adorning the top half of all cigarette boxes sold in the U.S. They bear alerts like “WARNING: Smoking can kill you.”
Perhaps the images and warnings make the decision to smoke all the more appealing because of the obvious recklessness required. I get that it’s hard to connect with the reality of long-term health risks as a college student. I subject myself to sleep deprivation and copious amounts of sugar on a regular basis. But when the risks are so defined, so grotesque and so likely to occur, why would you ever subject yourself to them?
It is true that there are people who can smoke for years and never suffer substantial ill effects, but there’s no way to know whether you’ll be one of them. You disrespect both yourself and everyone who cares about you by putting yourself at such risk — and with very little benefit.
But let’s say that you are one of those people who will never be stricken by cancer, emphysema, a heart attack, a stroke, an aneurysm, premature birth of a child or erectile dysfunction. What then? You’re still in the wrong, unless you specifically seek out uninhabited smoking corners where no one else will be forced to walk through the foul-smelling, carcinogenic particles seeping out of your cigarette. If you do seek out such a corner, thank you. I wish that you would stop smoking — it is bad for you — but thank you for sparing the rest of us from having to deal with it.
Unfortunately, it has been my experience that the vast majority of Yale smokers do not exhibit such respect for the health and comfort of their fellow students and University community members. Depending on the time of day, it can be difficult to walk through many parts of campus without having to inhale a whiff of cigarette smoke and all of the carbon monoxide, arsenic, formaldehyde and other lovely chemicals that come with it.
This past Saturday, while sitting at a bench on Cross Campus doing my English reading and enjoying the sunshine, I was interrupted by a guy who was rude enough to sit down next to me and start smoking. He was entirely oblivious to the idea that I might be uncomfortable inhaling those fumes with my asthmatic lungs on an otherwise clear and beautiful October afternoon. Annoyed, I decided to go inside but first had to make it through the ever-present cloud of cigarette smoke that hangs over the stairs leading down to Bass. We are breathing this polluted air every day, for four years.
So, in summary: Don’t smoke. It could kill you and is bad for everyone around you, so at least have the courtesy to go away if you must. And to those at Yale who have the power to do so: Can we please make areas like Cross Campus smoke-free?
I realize that we cannot ban smoking — as I said above, I recognize an individual’s right to self-determination, even if it is also self-destruction — but we can certainly limit its effects on those who are simply trying to live healthy, smoke-free lives on the Yale campus. Smoking should not occur in the courtyards of colleges, on the lawn of Cross Campus or at two of the three main entrances to the library. It’s just wrong.
Nell Meosky is a sophomore in Morse College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.