Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS: As a political science major at Ohio State University, Ida Seitter says, she lit up many a cigarette to help her through the stress of exam season. Right or wrong, they were her security blanket as she toiled through college.
Seitter, now 26, was old enough by then to make her own decisions, she said. She opposes efforts by policymakers in Ohio, New York, California and other states to impose bans on tobacco use not just in buildings at public colleges, but also anywhere on campus — even outdoors.
“Just back away from me a little bit. I won’t blow it in your face and I’ll try not to be rude,” Seitter said. “At the same time, I think it’s a little discriminatory for a practice that is considered legal.”
Bans on tobacco in all its forms are being enacted or considered at perhaps half of campuses nationwide, sometimes over the objections of student smokers, staff and faculty. The movement is driven by mounting evidence of the health risks of secondhand smoke, the reduced costs of smoke-free dorms and a drive to minimize enticements to smoke at a critical age for forming lifelong habits.
California’s state system will bar tobacco use by August 2013. A ban on use and advertising at the City University of New York system goes into effect in September, and the University of Missouri at Columbia is going smoke-free in 2014.
Ohio higher education officials plan a vote next month urging all public campuses to ban tobacco use.
Smoking rights advocate Audrey Silk, founder of New York Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, says any outdoor ban — whether for a campus, beach or public park — is an attack on the rights of one segment of the population.
“This isn’t a health issue anymore. It’s a moral issue,” she said. “There’s absolutely zero reason for a smoking ban outdoors. They use it as a tool. Harm from smoke outdoors is an excuse to frustrate smokers into quitting because they can’t find a place to light up.”