The most poorly thought-out schemes are often borne of noble intent.
UC President Mark Yudof recently announced the UC’s plan to ban the use of tobacco products on all 10 UC campuses over the next two years, and although we recognize the obvious benefits of such a decision, it is ultimately neither feasible nor fair.
The second part of Yudof’s plan — to also ban the sale and advertisement of tobacco products on campus — deserves praise and should be enacted. UC Santa Cruz already implements this policy, as do several other UC campuses, and it makes sense that the university actively discourages students from smoking. But trying to prevent legal adults from using legal substances is going too far.
It would be a wonderful thing if everyone chose not to smoke on campus. The Santa Cruz air would be even more crisp, health risks would go down, and cigarette butts wouldn’t litter the forest and sidewalks. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and the fact is that for the foreseeable future, some portion of the student body and faculty are going to smoke cigarettes. To assume that they will not smoke on campus — where they’re not only attending classes, but also socializing, working out, eating and often living — is a bit too hopeful. Making this a reality would be especially difficult in Santa Cruz, where the terrain makes it impossible to simply step off campus for a quick smoke in between classes.
To gauge the potential efficacy of a smoking ban on campus, just take a moment to consider how often people engage in using other illicit substances on campus and aren’t caught. Would banning cigarettes really make people stop using them — or would it only cause them to light up inside a dorm room or bathroom, where it would be more hazardous?
A better strategy the university could use would be to better mark and regulate smoking and no-smoking zones on campus. They exist now, but few consequences meet those who bend the rules beyond being told to put out the cigarette. Since TAPS has recently beefed up its parking surveillance, perhaps tickets could also be given for those who don’t comply with smoking rules. Under Assembly Bill 795, signed by by Gov. Brown in November 2011, the UC has the right to to enforce state, local and system-wide smoking and tobacco laws, regulations and policies by issuing fines. Enforcing regulations would achieve the same goal of cutting down the risk of secondhand smoke, but in a more cooperative way.
College students are notorious for two things — experimenting and bending the rules. As the Los Angeles Times pointed out, binge drinking is still a huge problem on college campuses. Only 8 percent of UC students smoke cigarettes, but some studies cite as many as half of all college students as binge drinkers. Keeping that in mind, perhaps it would be best for Yudof to more wisely pick his battles.