It may not be the university’s job to answer the concerns of every individual student, but it definitely has the responsibility to do what is best for the health of our students, faculty and staff. And there is no clearer way than to advocate for a stricter campus smoking policy.
Contrary to what Ms. Fitzpatrick suggests, there is a clear consensus among researchers that exposure to secondhand smoke has a harmful effect on the human body and these outcomes are not limited to only those who have had long-term exposure. For example, in a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, exposure to secondhand smoke for a mere 30 minutes was enough to decrease coronary flow velocity, a measure of your heart’s strength, by nearly 25 percent in perfectly normal, healthy adults.
If you’re having lunch at the Rat or studying outside in front of the library and someone lights up right next to you, by the time you finish your lunch or complete a chapter you can easily receive 30 minutes worth of smoke. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests “thirdhand smoke,” the toxins and particles that cigarettes leave behind on furniture and clothes, is just as dangerous as secondhand smoke.
In addition, Ms. Fitzpatrick is on the wrong side of a growing trend. She urges that nonsmokers should be more accommodating of their fellow smokers, when national data clearly shows otherwise. Smoking rates have declined 15 percent over the past decade. Nearly three quarters of all workplaces have smoke-free policies. Twenty-seven states including California and New York have enacted statewide smoking bans in all public areas.
UM’s very own medical campus, as well as our neighbors at the University of Florida, have already passed campus-wide smoking bans. The important thing to remember is that these policies are not the result of some political whim, but have been proven to have solid benefits. For example, one study by UCSF found a 36 percent decrease in heart attack hospitalizations in municipalities that adopted smoking bans.
This issue goes beyond individual rights. It is an issue of public health and the well-being of our community. When tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in our country, when $96 billion of our healthcare spending is consumed treating smoking-related illnesses, when 400,000 people in this country alone die from a lifestyle choice they made, it should be perfectly clear that smoking goes beyond just an individual right.
Combined with the fact that smoking bans have had a positive impact on the communities that have adopted them, it becomes clear that this is something we can all benefit from. It is foolish to continue to espouse “smokers’ right” when we gain little as a community from protecting them.
NOTE: For those looking to quit smoking, a multitude of campus resources is available. The Student Health Center and the Wellness Center are great places to start. For a full list of resources, visit www.uhealthsmokefree.com.
Melvin La is a first year MD candidate at the Miller School of Medicine.