We didn’t start the fire: cigarette bans hit Boston

by Beacon Staff • September 15, 2011

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strongPhilip Tang, Beacon Correspondent/strong

When class lets out, the Walker Building entrance becomes a tangle of students in flux.  Crowds of overflowing handbags and heavy backpacks collide with each other. And often a thin veil of smoke emanates from students huddled against Boylston’s bricks, savoring a break from hectic schedules with a cigarette.

“I don’t like to gasp for air every time I walk by people who smoke,” said Jimmy Ngo, a freshman marketing communication major. But is an annoyance such as this worth banning?

Two other Massachusetts colleges, Bridgewater State University and Salem State University, have taken up a smoke free mantle.  According to a list from the American Nonsmoker’s Rights Foundation published July 1 at no-smoke.org, they have joined approximately 530 colleges across the United States in banning cigarettes. These schools have all adopted campus-wide smoke-free policies, both indoor and outdoor — no compromises.

The grasp of the American cigarette conglomerate reaches far and reaches wide.  It’s not surprising to see it has a bit of a hold here at Emerson. Smoking a cigarette can seem as common as carrying books up and down the streets of Boston that double as Emerson’s campus. Though smokers are not technically doing anything wrong (as long as they don’t take a drag in the elevators) there is the issue of non-smokers inhaling second hand smoke.

Senior Andre Szabo, a visual and media arts major, agreed that people have the right to not breathe in puffs of smoke. However, as a smoker himself, he says the belief that an outright ban would be extreme.

“People have the right to choose [to smoke]; they can make the decision for themselves.”

He said that regulating smoking inside the buildings is easy enough to handle, but controlling what happens on the streets and sidewalks is a more difficult endeavor. There are laws to consider.

Andrew Tiedemann, in an email interview, gave the college’s stance on the matter: smoking within the buildings is strictly prohibited. As of 2009, Boston banned smoking across all indoor workplaces.

“However, city, state, and federal laws govern when and where individuals can smoke in areas not owned by the college,” he wrote. This specifically applies to sidewalks. Tiedemann wrote, “We cannot control what students do on the sidewalks in front of our buildings since they are Boston’s, not ours.”

The head of housing and residence life, David Haden, agreed. Haden said joining the other 530 Mass. schools in adopting a campus wide smoke-free policy may be futile.

“It is worth noting that smoking regulations on the public sidewalks and alleys that are contiguous to the campus are public spaces and therefore governed by city, state, and federal laws,” Haden wrote in an email.

Because of these laws, Haden said, “I don’t necessarily believe that joining a smoke-free network would have a significant impact.”

He believes an alternative to adopting a campus-wide ban would be to work rigorously to route smoking away from the campus.

Ngo said he would prefer to see smokers venture to Boston Common to light up, but unless a smoker wants to lean against a shady tree while sucking on a Marlboro Light, they’re more likely to whip out their lighter wherever they see space to stand.

Haden and Tiedemann both wrote about encouraging students to quit smoking as an alternative. But quitting is up to the individual, not the administration.

For as long as the city of Boston allows it, smoking near campus grounds at Emerson will exist.  It is one thing to have your head in the clouds, but many would agree that having your head in a cloud of smoke is nothing to lose a lung over.

emTang can be reached at/em

em philip_tang@emerson.edu./em

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