Smokers are people too, unless they want to smoke

James Dyer

Wading through a crowd of smokers to get to class is, by far, one of the most difficult parts of my day. I rocket through the crowd, ignoring waves and mean gestures alike, only so that I may breathe easily once I cross the threshold indoors. I do this, not because I have asthma, the flu or the terribly contagious “Ican’tgetthroughmydaywithoutcomplaining-itis,” but because every time I get a whiff of nicotine my nose twitches, my blood boils and all I want to do is snatch a lit cigarette from an unwary passerby and eat it whole. As a quitting smoker, there are few things more difficult for me than being in the immediate vicinity of a smoker and not uttering the phrase, “Hey man, can you bum a smoke?”

The idea of a smoke-free college campus has been a trendy one around the country for years now. In Michigan, a few schools have toyed with the idea, the largest being the University of Michigan, who implemented their smoking ban in July. At NMU, the idea has waxed and waned, but every year it reemerges as a major talking point on campus. As a smoker, I obviously had a vested interest in the matter. Getting through a day without a cigarette was difficult enough, but being forced to walk off campus to enjoy a smoke seemed ridiculous. Now, being on the other side of things, I’m forced to stare down a hard decision. Do I support a smoking ban that would make it easier for me to quit, or do I consider the rights and choices of an increasingly antagonized minority? Though I chose to try to overcome my addiction, I realized that I could never force others to do the same.

Nowadays, to be a smoker is to be an outcast. With government restrictions on smoking advertisements, the only media attention smokers get is through ads that demonize smokers. What started as a “get healthy” campaign has transformed into a campaign of negative rhetoric, the goal of which is not to help smokers quit, but to turn the tide of public opinion so much so as to force them to quit.

This was the idea behind Michigan’s recent indoor smoking ban. Instead of letting public opinion sway the market towards bars and restaurants that were smoke-free, our state trampled any opportunity of compromise and passed a sweeping reform that even caused some establishments who catered specifically to smokers to go out of business. In a state that was already in a precarious financial situation, this is unforgivable.

On the university level, the discussions have gone much the same since I was a freshman almost four years ago. Those who are for the smoking ban want cleaner air, a healthier campus and for smokers to altogether disappear from their line of sight. Those who are against it simply want the right to smoke and are willing to compromise almost anything to keep it. There are a few non smokers who are against any ban because they feel that smokers have a right to smoke, and non smokers have a right to walk a few feet in the other direction to avoid them, if they so please. While many proponents of a smoking ban are willing to tolerate compromises that allow smoking in designated areas, the vast majority of them don’t care for the rights of smokers in the slightest, and would rather have them completely out of sight and out of mind.

Smoking is bad for you. It stains your teeth and stinks up your clothes, and quitting is a pain, but smoking is also the way many students deal with stress. For some of them who began smoking before college, quitting during a stressful semester is almost impossible.

What non-smokers don’t understand is that smoking is often less of a lifestyle choice than it is a product of environment. Smokers begin smoking because their parents smoked, because their friends smoked or, in my case, because during a 12-hour shift at a factory, the only opportunity to go outside was during a smoke break. Maybe a campus smoking ban would curve social smokers from becoming addicts, but what of those who need a cigarette to get through the day? Do we throw them out the window because some can’t stand a moment’s discomfort?

Most smokers have come to understand that by and by society at large doesn’t care for them. Smokers have been told that they’re dirty and disgusting for so long, that for the most part smokers accepted it. Resistance to the statewide indoor smoking ban and campus smoking bans around the country has been largely nonexistent by smokers, who seem content to be swept under the rug. According to a Center for Disease Control report, approximately 20.6 percent of adults in the United States smoke, far less of a minority than proponents of smoking bans would like to believe.

In a world of mature adults, smokers and non-smokers should be able to find a way to compromise so that they may coexist peacefully. Unfortunately, with public opinion vastly swayed against a smoking minority, opportunities for an open and reasonable discussion are quickly being swept away in a wave of majority tyranny. It’s high time for smokers to stand up for their rights, before they are taken from them.