No butts allowed

College is symbolized, to many, by freedom – the freedom to make one’s own choices, regardless of how dumb or smart they may be. But after the University of California implemented its first system-wide ban on smoking on Jan. 1, students are wondering if the California State University system will follow suit – and how that decision would infringe on their freedom to decide to smoke.

The CSU would be right to ban smoking on campus, and we really hope that they do. The age range of 18 – 22 years old is a pivotal time when people are prone to pick up smoking, especially in light of the newfound freedom of living on their own. According to a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health in August 2013, a third of college students said they had used a tobacco product in the last four weeks. Almost half of the students said they had used tobacco in the past year. A campus-wide ban on smoking would hopefully reduce the number of students tempted to smoke for the first time.

We want the CSU to ban smoking on campuses, but it’s not because we want to dictate a student’s right to smoke – we just want to discourage it. Although we applaud the UC’s initiative to take another step toward a cigarette-free generation, we realize smokers can smoke off-campus, too. We urge every smoker to consider kicking the habit, but ultimately it’s their body and their decision to smoke. 

But for non-smokers, secondhand smoke affects their bodies, too – and it’s definitely not their own decision.

Fifty years ago this January, the U.S. Surgeon General issued the first government report on cigarette smoking, changing the country’s attitudes, culture and knowledge forever. Half a century, 20 million deaths and 30 Surgeon General’s reports later, innumerable regulations and legislation have gone into effect to reduce smoke and tobacco ingestion – including well-known warnings against secondhand smoke.

We already know the “smoking is bad” spiel. Even multiple-packs-a-day smokers are reminded daily about how harmful it is just by looking at their cartons. What they might not know is that one out of three cancer deaths is caused by smoking, one cigarette is estimated to shorten a life by 11 minutes and that over $130 billion in direct medical costs related to tobacco use is spent annually, according to the Surgeon General report released earlier this month.

And compared to the 45 million American adults who choose to smoke, 126 million non-smoking Americans are exposed to secondhand smoke, including 22 million children. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, secondhand smoke contains over 250 toxic chemicals – including 50 that are known to cause cancer. Secondhand smoke can cause heart disease and lung cancer in adults, as well as health conditions such as sudden infant death syndrome in children.

Fortunately, secondhand smoke isn’t the worst epidemic on Sonoma State’s campus. Our smoking policy prohibits smoking in all campus buildings, state vehicles and partially enclosed areas. Smoking is generally only allowed beyond 20 feet of all campus buildings except for open areas where people are less able to avoid it. Enacted in 2003, Sonoma State’s smoking policy does a good job in protecting its non-smokers. But a decade’s worth of new research and increasing deaths is more than enough justification to revise the policy in order to further protect the university’s community.

Adults do have the right to choose. But non-smokers also have the right to not be exposed to the toxicity of secondhand smoke. And unlike other controversial, health-related choices that our country fixates on, the tobacco industry is arguably the most addictive, misleading, deadly and just plain disgusting. We’ve known this for well over 50 years – as early as 1888, people used the slang term “coffin nails” when talking about cigarettes.

College is about freedom, but more so about education. And while many smokers would love to toss their butts at those who cough in their direction or don’t hesitate to remind them that smoking is bad, it’s hard to stand in the face of the increasing amount of evidence and research that overwhelmingly support the anti-smoking movement. 

We’re supposed to be getting smarter, both as a generation enrolled in college and as a nation evolving with science. The University of California was smart in joining the rally against smoking; now, it’s time for the California State University to do the same.