Students’ rights to clean air trumps moral stigma

By Justin Adams

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]It may surprise you to find out that the U is one of the last schools in the Pac-12 to allow smoking on campus. In fact, over a thousand colleges and universities in the United States have gone completely smoke-free, according to no-smoke.org. Given what we know about the health risks of tobacco, including from secondhand smoke, it’s time for the U to join the club.

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I don’t need to remind you of the dangers of tobacco. Anti-smoking campaigns already do that, letting you know that smoking can kill. But there are also consequences for those who choose not to smoke. According to the Center for Disease Control, exposure to secondhand smoke by those at risk of heart disease can trigger heart attacks. Long-term exposure to second-hand smoke can even increase one’s risk of lung cancer. Being a U student has its perks, like a UTA pass and student discounts, but getting lung cancer should not be one of them.

So why hasn’t the U banned smoking? Perhaps because if it were to do so, some would make the argument that a state run school is inappropriately enforcing the moral values of the LDS church, the state’s most dominant religious demographic. Instituting such a policy would maybe feel too much like BYU’s Honor Code, and resembling the school down south in that regard is something few Utes want. The problem is that the desire to not get lung cancer isn’t a Mormon value as much as it is a public health value. UCLA, Cal, Oregon and others in the Pac-12 haven’t banned smoking because it’s against the LDS health code, but because it’s detrimental to the health of their students and anyone who spends time on their campuses.

The U does already have rules that restrict where students can smoke on campus, but they’re not very effective. Its website says smoking is banned in areas “where non-smokers cannot avoid exposure to smoke.” That’s well-intentioned and all, but it leaves a lot up to interpretation. Someone could light up nearly anywhere on campus and reasonably argue that others can avoid them if they so desire. So people basically smoke anywhere, as long as it’s not right outside a building entrance.

If the U wants to strike a balance between protecting the health of its non-smokers and not seeming to impose a BYU-esque moral, there might be a solution. They could impose a ban on smoking everywhere on campus except designated areas. There can be benches or even an awning for the snowy months. Smokers can congregate there, and everyone else will know exactly where to avoid if they don’t want to breathe second-hand smoke. The school can follow the rest of the Pac-12 in promoting public health, while still maintaining an environment that is accepting of values outside of the LDS church.

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