By Alex Bill
Smoke Ďem if you got Ďem
North Americans often take a protracted amount of time to make positive change for society. One exception is when they think their health is in danger in even the slightest way, especially because of someone elseís dirty habit.
When research surfaced claiming second-hand smoke could cause cancer and other smoke-related illnesses, heads turned. Even though the 1993 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is given little credence by the medical community, its effect has helped the snowballing anti-smoking campaigns we see today.
Following this were the human interest stories; the bartender who never smoked a cigarette in her life yet now has lung cancer, or the young children in smoke-filled homes and the diseases theyíve acquired.
Now the anti-smoking lobby is gargantuan, with arguably more influence than the pro-smoking lobby of days gone by. Provincial anti-smoking legislation is now the norm, to the point where even liberal Quebec has stamped out smoking in public areas.
Educational institutions have also stepped into the fray. Students in the University of Alberta voted in a non-binding referendum to make all indoor and outdoor areas on campus smoke free. The studentís union and board of governors are currently in the process of establishing the ban.
In Newfoundland, the Eastern School District has recently banned tobacco use on all school property. Meaning the once-filled smoking sections of local high-schools will revert back to their role as parking lots.
These bans are both very similar. They deal with outdoor smoking; where the risks of second-hand smoke are significantly reduced, and they attempt to curtail cigarette use by the market tobacco producers crave most ≠ young people.
To me however, one is much more acceptable than the other.
High schools in St. Johnís have often held a hypocritical stance on smoking. They eagerly partake in anti-smoking campaigns, often at a considerable expense, yet they let underage smokers inhale before class, during lunch, and after-school on their property.
In my own high-school days, you could walk out the cafeteria door, and ďRicky,Ē or whoever was on top of the cigarette pyramid at the time, had a pack open, hand out, asking 50 cents a smoke.
High schools will face the problem of students now leaving school property to smoke, but in my eyes this is an easier predicament to handle than the 100 plus students smoking in the parking lot.
The University of Alberta ban is a different story. While students (60 percent) did vote in favour of the ban, faculty and staff werenít taken into consideration. Also, a major part of the Canadian custom of tolerance, at least in my eyes, is that the rights of minorities canít be impaired by the will of the majority.
A campus-wide outdoor ban is as much a matter of aesthetics as it is health. Some students Iíve talked to at Memorial would rather ban smoking across campus than put up with the smell in the entrance to the U.C. for five seconds. Forget that compromise can easily be made, just go ahead and ban it everywhere.
Smokers are going to smoke whether we want them to or not, just like any drug user. The question is how far are we going to go to protect our own health, or to suit our tastes?
The question will inevitably come up again as Memorialís student housing division pushes for a smoking ban in Burtonís Pond apartments. The apartments, unlike Paton College, are firmly separated from one another, and students can often choose who they will live with.
If four students who smoke choose to move into Burtonís Pond together, who are we to tell them they canít smoke in their own home? Again, 66 per cent of student voted in favour of such a ban, but only 15 per cent of Burtonís Pond residents took part in the poll.
Is this about protecting student health, or about non-smokers in their quest to rid the world of smoking?
Anti-smoking groups have done a good job so far, and normally I couldnít care less about the complaints of smokers if itís a matter of health. My concern is that the lobby groups will transform this movement into a ďWar on Smoking,Ē which, like the wars on drugs and terrorism, simply canít be won.