Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Changing my postition on the UM Tobacco-free campus

For those of you who aren't students at my University, recently it was decided to make the campus tobacco-free, starting Fall 2011. If you want to smoke, chew, or use snus (all three are popular here) then you have to leave campus to do so. There's an exception in the rule for the ceremonial use of tobacco by First Nations for particular spiritual or social functions. Which is excellent, if they hadn't, it would have been an absolute failure of a policy. But in my view, it has a major flaw, which I will detail now.
Now, when I first heard about this rule, I was extremely worried, because my boss at the time was a heavy smoker who regularly took smoke breaks. This boss also hated my guts and made my life miserable, and I was dreading how mean she would be to me when she was going through a nicotine withdrawal. It would have been hell on earth.
Then, I quit my job, and found a new one, and I was able to focus on the long-term implications of the rule outside of me being treated like dirt. And I decided I was in favour of it. Smokers at UM have designated smoke areas, and are forbidden from smoking closer than 25 feet (7.62 m) to a building entrance, for obvious reasons. But many, my former boss included, disobeyed this ruling, and smoked right outside the building. This means that anyone who was exiting a building after class was treated to a humongous cloud of cigarette smoke right in their face.
I have sensory issues with certain scents, but tobacco isn't among them for me personally. For other people with SPD, or those with allergies or asthma, this is more than an inconvenience, it's a threat to their health. One which some smokers completely disregard for their own convenience. I concluded that, if banning tobacco outright was what it would take to stop this, then so be it. My right to good health outweighs the right of a smoker to engage in their habit.
I maintained this stance, offering a shrugging "too bad" to anyone who complained about the ruling. A few times, I saw a "When UM bans tobacco I will still smoke here" bulls-eyes on the sidewalks of campus, and didn't think much of it.
After visiting the University of Victoria though, I've decided that the tobacco ban will have unintended consequences for the University, not only for the campus, but the town of Missoula at large, if not the whole state, in terms of environmental health.
See, Victoria, according to my significant other, also has a tobacco free policy. She told me this after I was inquiring at the disgusting sight of cigarette butts scattered all over campus, concentrated outside buildings entrances. Apparently, in the discouraging of smoking on campus, UVic decided to remove the ashtrays that mark entrances of buildings to UM. So smokers have decided to instead, dump their butts wherever it strikes their fancy.
I should mention, for the geographically un-inclined, that Victoria is situated on an island, one where it rains. A lot. Meaning that each time it rains, those damn butts probably wash into the ocean surrounding the island, giving a big ol' dose of butts courtesy of inconsiderate UVic students, to the fish, whales, and other sea life which populate the Pacific Ocean in the Northwest. Lovely. Just lovely.
Missoula, to contrast, is inland, but has a river running through it. If the smokers at UM follow UVic's smokers' example after the ban goes into place, then UM's butts will wash up in the Clark Fork river, a nicotine treat for the turtles, fish, and waterfowl.
Since a group of UM's smokers have demonstrated before that they care very little about the well-being of fellow humans, I doubt they will extend any courtesy to the animal life of UM and consider the consequences of dumping their butts wherever they like. And once those ashtrays are gone, I'm almost certain some of those butts will end up on the ground and then in the river.
It's a G-d damn pity that we would have to accommodate the obscenely rude behaviour of a couple of selfish, pathetic individuals. But that is the case, sadly, and that's why ultimately, I've decided not to support banning tobacco at my university. It will go into effect no matter what, but it's my hope UM will at least take initiative to ensure that butts don't get dumped.

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