Alex Shoucair: Snuff out the smoking ban

Spiraling tuition costs. Plummeting endowment value. Student Association turmoil. Deteriorating library. Heinous dining services. Secondhand smoke. Which one of these is not like the other? If you guessed secondhand smoke, you’d be right. Nevertheless, a small but vocal contingent of students has launched a campaign to fight the campuswide epidemic of secondhand smoke because apparently it is just as important, if not more so, than these other five issues.

A Hatchet article a few weeks ago (“Students propose smoking ban,” Mar. 12) highlighted the efforts of a few graduate students in the School of Public Health and Health Services to severely limit the ability of students to smoke on campus, since there is nothing more important for this school to worry about right now. American author Fletcher Knebel remarked that “smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics.” It also happens to be one of the leading causes of useless social regulation.

The effort to limit secondhand smoke is really just a thinly veiled attempt to eradicate smoking entirely. It is yet one more initiative in a long line of attempts to increase the size of the “nanny state.” Not content with allowing people to freely make their own decisions, the anti-smoking lobby has latched on to the concept of secondhand smoke as a convenient pretext to ostracize America’s smokers.

No one maintains that smoking is good for the body. That’s not why people smoke. They smoke to relax, to socialize or to try to pretend they’re some sort of badass. Whatever their reasons, it is up to individuals whether or not they smoke.

Even if you grant that secondhand smoke is harmful to the body (something that an extensive UCLA study published in the British Medical Journal in 2003 disputes), it is not something that school administrative officials can or should attempt to regulate out of existence. Unless you’re a freshman or just completely lame and decide to spend significant time outside Thurston or Gelman, do you think that secondhand smoke is a “crime” that the University Police Department should utilize valuable time and resources cracking down on? Furthermore, the idea appears to lack feasibility in that the school may not even be able to regulate legal activity in places like public sidewalks, given GW’s location.

Let’s be honest, this is a matter of GW’s core identity. What would we do without that girl donning Greek letters, leggings and Uggs, yelling into her BlackBerry while puffing away on a cigarette? That’s about as GW as endless bureaucracy and political toolbaggery. And let’s remember that this ban could impact all types of smoking. Think about the next time you might want to smoke a little hookah with a few friends on a late night out in Kogan. Or when you want to light up a nice cigar to celebrate another huge win by our vaunted basketball team? Oh, wait.

GW likes to pride itself on what it perceives as a “live and let live” mentality. This issue will put that reputation to the test. You don’t have to be a smoker (I am not) to be concerned with the direction a smoking ban would take this school. Why don’t we all just spend our time worrying about the things that actually matter (like, you know, the SA). Let’s resist yet another layer of social parenting. Let’s snuff out the smoking ban.

The writer is a junior majoring in Asian studies.

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