Comment & Analysis
Sep 14, 2018

A Tobacco-Free Campus is Inevitable

A ban on smoking on campus could be an inconvenience for many but it's hard to argue that the pros outweigh the cons, writes Ciannait Khan.

Ciannait KhanColumnist

Standing in the silence of Front Square, smoking a cigarette and looking out over the moonlit campanile: a hedonistic act of the highest order. It’s easy to imagine that Wilde himself might have been lighting one up right here on campus when he famously wrote that a cigarette is “the perfect type of a perfect pleasure”.

It’s a joy that may soon be lost forever – and for good reason. The damaging effects of the world’s worst habit aren’t lost on anybody, least of all on smokers themselves. For a number of compelling reasons, College has long been eager to make campus tobacco-free. Having already succeeded in introducing a number of smoke-free zones, it is now considering the expansion of its tobacco-free policy. To gauge students’ feelings around this, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) will hold a vote on the issue in the second week of term.

While there are many legitimate objections to making our campus entirely smoke-free, voting to hinder the progress of the initiative feels like merely delaying the inevitable.

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It’s possible to compare smoking with other unhealthy habits – and, particularly given that in 2016, the College signed a contract to sell only Coca-Cola company drinks on campus, it may seem unfair to target smokers alone when promoting good health. But while there may also be a need to clamp down on sugar and other harmful products on campus, the fact remains that smoking tobacco poses serious risks for both the smoker and for those around them.

For many reasons – lung cancer, to name one – we rarely speak positively about smoking. To do so nowadays constitutes an irresponsible faux pas, lest it is seen as promoting a dangerous addiction that many have seen firsthand damage people’s lives irrevocably. But while we might not talk openly about the appeal of smoking, it’s writ large in our culture.

While there are many legitimate objections to making our campus entirely smoke-free, voting to hinder the progress of the initiative feels like merely delaying the inevitable.

From the seductive smoking of film noir to philosophers sagely huffing on pipes, smoking is one of society’s richest symbols. Despite crackdowns on how it is portrayed in film and TV, regulators have failed to stub out completely the romanticisation of smoking. Last year’s arthouse hit Call Me By Your Name is at least two-thirds characters indulgently taking drags of cigarettes as they drift through an endless romantic summer, while US band Cigarettes After Sex has built its brand around crackling slowcore music that, as their name suggests, evokes the quiet euphoria of smoking. People often deride the choice to smoke as simply an attempt to be cool, but dismissing this rationale as trivial undermines the real cultural forces that play into the decision.

For non-smokers, the issue may seem black and white, a bad habit to be remedied by plastering yourself with nicotine patches. But the physical addiction of smoking isn’t even the half of it. Cravings for nicotine fade relatively quickly: the psychological impulse to smoke is a lot harder to shake. Smoking gets tied up with people’s identities, has a strong social allure, and is a crutch that many use to ease stress and anxiety. And, as with most vices, people get a strange kick out of doing something that they know is bad for them.

The list of reasons why people smoke goes on and on, and these shouldn’t be just shrugged off by people who haven’t made an effort to understand them

The list of reasons why people smoke goes on and on, and these shouldn’t be just shrugged off by people who haven’t made an effort to understand them. But even taking these into account, it’s hard not to lean in favour of initiatives that discourage smoking. At the end of the day, it’s a practice for which it’s hard to argue that the pros outweigh the cons.

Policy is powerful. It’s hard for us to fathom that only a short few years ago, people were up in arms about the smoking ban, which was introduced in 2004 and prohibited people from smoking indoors. Now, not smoking inside has become second nature, so much so that visits to countries with no such ban often leaves smokers themselves baulking.

As much as you might savour that post-lecture smoke outside the Arts Block, or that cricket-pitch cigarette in the summer sun, saying goodbye is a necessary evil to prevent far greater ones

Just as smoking itself is symbolic, so is the move to make campus smoke-free. We all know that banning smoking won’t make smokers quit overnight. But it sends a message. It renders smoking less socially acceptable, less normal. And in time – potentially not very long, if the previous smoking ban is anything to go by – this will yield results.

In the meantime, a blanket ban on smoking on campus could be a mild to major inconvenience for many, but with something like this, it’s not difficult to step back and see the bigger picture.

Policies discouraging harmful activities – bans on drugs and sugar taxes, for example – often place reasonable limits on people’s freedoms to build a better society. Perhaps it’s too soon for students to get on board with a totally tobacco-free campus, but it’s the direction we’re headed regardless. So, as much as you might savour that post-lecture smoke outside the Arts Block, or that cricket-pitch cigarette in the summer sun, saying goodbye is a necessary evil to prevent far greater ones.

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