On-Campus Smoking Should Be Banned—But Not Yet

Are we idle while other universities take strides away from nicotine?

By Ryan Sanghavi

There are two parties affected by smokers on campus: those who smoke, and those who do not. Who is more negatively impacted by the practice of smoking? Obviously, those who perform the action themselves. But as American colleges trend towards a no-smoking culture, UChicago has some adjustments to make.

In 2009, The Chicago Maroon published an op-ed titled “The case for smoking,” in which then-first-year Emmett Rensin argued that smoking provided a reliable comfort for certain students. Rensin doesn’t ignore the commonly seen statistics of exactly how many people die of smoking and smoking-related illnesses in the United States per year. The UChicago Student Wellness Center provides up-to-date information, citing that over 41,000 people die of secondhand smoke inhalation alone annually. So why do people still advocate for university-permitted on-campus smoking?

The most evident answer is one that the Wellness Center page itself answers: quitting smoking is hard. It’s hard for people who want to quit, and perhaps impossible for those who don’t want to quit. There are several other major research universities that have banned smoking—full stop—on campus, such as the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, and Georgetown University, and numerous others have banned smoking in recent years.

Here’s the first question: Why have these institutions banned the use of nicotine products? Georgetown, for one, has done so to support the “care of the whole person” through the individual’s health and wellness. Another underlying reason that some students and administrators would admit personally but struggle to word professionally is that some simply find smoking gross and would prefer not to walk through artificial, odorous clouds on their way to work.

The second question is this: Why has UChicago not followed suit? Let’s suppose that UChicago was to ban cigarettes, and some non-smokers were happy with the reduction of small-scale pollution. What about those with nicotine addictions or those who enjoy the occasional cigarette, like the demographic Rensin writes of? Georgetown attempted to address concerns of those with smoking addictions in its 2020 policy announcement regarding the prohibition of smoking. Part of the statement reads, “The University continues to offer resources to support tobacco cessation. More information about the many cessation resources available can be found at [link].” Following one more link will bring the viewer to a site called “Health Advocate.” The program touts “strategies to help you quit tobacco for good” in which “you will also create your own quit plan” with an available “free coaching” program via text and call. Yale, over the past several years, has also developed specific cessation resources for students.

When looking at how UChicago guides students to smoking resources, we can find that UChicago’s human resources page explains the university’s smoking policy. While it lists the policy itself, resources must be found externally through the UChicago Student Wellness Center. There are two main resources provided by the center. The first is “counseling and behavioral therapy with a tobacco treatment specialist” which leads the viewer directly to an email draft with the recipient and subject line autofilled. The second is an individual therapy session with an addiction counselor, for which one must call the provided number to make an appointment.

I cannot speak to the effectiveness of these resources, but the issue is that UChicago does not immediately appear to have the same cessation resources as other major universities, which draw attention to well-developed anti-smoking programs. This is not to say that UChicago’s resources are necessarily bad or difficult to find—but perhaps UChicago, in the absence of an on-campus smoking prohibition, has not felt the same urgency to provide cessation resources as other universities have.

So, should smoking be banned on campus? The general school policy is that smoking and the use of vaporizers are prohibited inside university buildings but permitted more than 15 feet away from building entrances and windows. The policy makes no mention of the use of cigarettes on main pathways or on the campus quadrangle. I personally have had many experiences of walking into a cloud of smoke or vapor while in transit between buildings. I’ve seen several posts on the social media platform Sidechat, particularly within the university-specific channel, complaining of the odor of cigarettes in university buildings or jokingly discussing the so-called ‘Reg smokers’—those who take a smoke break outside of Regenstein Library.

Although banning smoking might arguably benefit non-smokers, there is little to suggest that doing so would benefit those who do smoke. Presumably, these students and community members would just go to greater lengths to conceal the action without a decrease in consumption. I do ultimately believe that smoking should be banned on campus, but not until a stronger infrastructure and clearer programs are in place to ensure that a policy shift would have a positive impact on all parties—not just on those inconvenienced by the smell. If a ban were to be placed, the Wellness Center might struggle to support those who have no desire to seek addiction counseling but would have the duty to provide such services nonetheless.

The easiest and most decisive next step for the University would be to follow Columbia University’s approach of providing several designated smoking areas on campus and banning smoking everywhere else, including on sidewalks and other public spaces. This would reduce the inconvenience of poor air quality and odor to non-smokers. But beyond this achievable and more simple change, UChicago needs to openly consider the concerns and needs of smokers before an outright campus-wide ban.

Ryan Sanghavi is a first-year in the College.


Correction: The writer and Viewpoints editors changed language discussing addiction from “addict” as a noun to “those with nicotine addictions,” in accordance with updated National Center on Disability and Journalism guidelines.