Benjamin Laplante: At UMass, smokers silently suffer

Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2015
While many students raised their voices last fall against discrimination on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus, one group of people continued to silently suffer — smokers.

Two years ago I moved onto campus not knowing that the previous summer the university established a no-smoking policy. While that may sound like a health-conscious decision, it left smokers like me sweating.

The university is going against an attitude of inclusiveness its leaders are trying to foster on campus by imposing this unfair ban, which leaves hundreds of smokers open to discrimination on a daily basis.

I am in no way advocating smoking. It was the worst decision of my life and it is the definition of a bad habit.

The real issue, however, is that demanding a person quit tobacco, which can be purchased legally by age 18 in most places, and threatening punishment if caught, is not helping any smoker quit. The only thing that will make someone quit is their personal drive and their own choice. As a former smoker I can attest to this.

Most smokers like me will not stop because of a ban. I grew fond of not caring where I smoked when I saw dozens of people smoking in the open on a daily basis.

This university policy is a folly. Officials may have intended to help the population’s health, but by doing so they stripped students of a civil liberty on campus.

Smoking can be invasive, but there is almost no city or town in the world that does not have smokers. It is unrealistic to ban smoking. It does not teach tolerance. It teaches discrimination and creates a stigma against smokers.

Smokers know that they are making a mistake by smoking, but it is their personal responsibility to decide if they should continue to smoke or not.

The university should not have a say in smoking just because it is not healthy. Overeating is unhealthy but that doesn’t mean the university should ban overweight people from eating unhealthy foods. After a certain age, people have the right to make their own life decisions even if they are not ideal.

In addition to health, the university says the ban helps stop littering of cigarettes and clears the air for all. Yet smoking continues on campus and cigarettes still litter the ground.

Why doesn’t the university establish designated smoking areas around campus? These areas could have actual ash trays for cigarettes to go in instead of on the ground. The fact that UMass does not have ash trays around campus shows that they are not supplying proper maintenance and are encouraging smokers to litter.

There does not have to be bitterness between the campus and certain students. There can be tolerance of a life choice and the respect of people’s rights to partake in that choice.

According to an ABC poll, half of all college students admitted to using tobacco at least once in the last year. Young people still smoke even with aggressive campaigns against it, and the habit may never be fully eliminated from society.

Just because it upsets some people does not mean smokers should be exiled. College students live stressful lives with intense work in and out of the class. If a student, in the heat of stress or at the end of a long day, wants to smoke a cigarette, then that student should have that right.

Students can vote, go to jail, and die in war but for some reason can’t light a cigarette. A university that promotes tolerance and acceptance of all students has established a catastrophic hypocrisy with its smoking ban. Until this policy is adjusted, the air at UMass will not be clear.

Benjamin Laplante is a student at the University of Massachusetts. He wrote this column for a junior year writing class.