There are days when I sit on the steps outside the Stephen Roberts ’62 Campus Center and take in our college; there is no better place to view and experience what it means to call Brown home. There are students tossing Frisbees outside University Hall, a capella groups selling concert tickets outside Salomon Center and the mass of students just milling about: chatting, eating, dreaming. But there are inevitably a handful of others sitting near me dragging on a habit I wish they did not have.
There have been multiple occasions when this scenic view and mental escape has been disrupted by an odor that makes me wrinkle my nose. An odor so acrid it makes me cough. An odor with only one source: tobacco.
Few things offend me as much as cigarettes. I am not just a public health student; I am also a cancer survivor. Cigarettes — also known as cancer sticks — have been recognized as a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States for more than 20 years. Cigarettes are responsible for the senseless loss of millions of lives. Lung cancer, respiratory diseases, asthma attacks and secondhand smoke-related conditions are just a portion of cigarettes’ cruel caseload.
A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this month found that public health experts actually underrate the dangers associated with smoking, the New York Times reported. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to the 42 million Americans currently addicted. The Times reported that smokers are likely to die younger than non-smokers, have a substantially heightened risk of dying of lung cancer and an increased likelihood of heart disease and other ailments.
Brown is committed to supporting and representing the ideas of a progressive society that champions research, and the research has already been done. Brown aims to protect student and global health, and the school has demonstrated this commitment by improving dining options at the Sharpe Refectory and providing students with water bottles instead of selling bottled water. In general, Brown is an in-shape institution where many students exercise regularly, join food co-ops and support Market Shares. But, with regards to its tobacco policies, Brown needs to shape up; we have decided to take an unnerving, backseat role.
There are complex and unique reasons for why people start smoking: peer pressure, curiosity, stress or any number of the glamorized cigarette smokers in the media, like actors and pop stars. And there seems to be little dispute among experts on the critical period when young people shift from “occasional smoker” to “addict”: college.
Many of us begin as “social smokers” who, in recognizing that tobacco is deadly and addictive, deny forming the habit. “I only smoke when I’m drunk.” Another classic: “I was abroad, and everyone smokes there!” And best yet: “All my roommates were smoking, and I was inhaling anyway, so might as well have a taste for myself.” I call this smoke-and-mirrors logic.
Studies show that more years of educational attainment are associated with lower rates of cigarette smoking. According to the surgeon general’s 2014 report on progress in smoking cessation in the United States, just over 10 percent of those with at least a degree from a two- or four-year college were smokers compared to the 31.5 percent of those with less than a high school diploma. Statistics aside, many at Brown still smoke, putting all of us at risk of disease and harm. Brown needs to take more proactive measures.
Several of Brown’s peer institutions are ahead of us in instituting smoke-free policies. Most recently, Harvard Yard became tobacco-free this past summer, the Harvard Crimson reported Sept. 24. Though student smokers interviewed by the paper noted that while the new ban had not caused them to quit, it now required more effort to find a spot to light up. In total, over 1,200 colleges and universities in the United States have gone tobacco or smoke-free on their entire campuses. Unfortunately, none of them is in Rhode Island, but Brown can be the first.
All of Brown’s buildings are already smoke-free facilities, as are all buildings in Rhode Island, and the University stipulates in its smoking policy that employees must be at least 35 feet away from a building to smoke. Given the prohibition of cigarette sales in any of the campus markets and, as of September 2014, CVS — a Rhode Island-based corporation — the tobacco presence on College Hill has declined. Even the Red Carpet Smoke Shop, a Waterman Street stronghold, closed its doors at the beginning of this year.
Health Services does offer tobacco cessation services in the form of pamphlets available in the office, counseling with experts for students or staff members interested in quitting and prescriptions for antidepressants that help students fight the urge to smoke, according to its website. But we all know how hard it is to quit once you start, and it’s time for Brown to prevent people from starting and stub this habit out.
Brown divested from tobacco companies in 2003 because the industry contributes “to social harm so grave that it would be inconsistent with the goals and principles of the University to accept funds from that source,” according to a University press release. But this “social harm” affects us here on campus in very physical ways. Brown should make a healthful and moral decision that backs up its financial one.
We forget that students’ individual rights when they are on campus are not absolute. The University’s alcohol policies limit the types of alcohol containers on campus — no keggers — and prohibit selling alcohol at fundraising events. While these types of activities are legal in Providence, they represent the University’s focus on the health and safety of its students by not endorsing alcohol sales and consumption.
A tobacco-free Brown would not prevent students from smoking on city streets or in hookah bars, though it would align our ideologies with our practices. Going tobacco-free would mean no more smoking cigars on the Main Green, smoking cigarettes outside University-owned buildings or chewing tobacco near the athletic fields. Students would still have the freedom to smoke — just not on campus.
Bans pose a challenging policy shift at Brown, given our strong emphasis on individual freedom and choice. And while this is a decision for us to make, it is a decision we should make on behalf of ourselves and on behalf of others so that all of us may live and work in a smoke-free environment.
Kate Kiernan ‘16 is a Herald opinions editor.