Campus up in smoke: Quitting for myself (and others)

Mary Wardell

Addiction is something every human can understand. Love, coffee, cigarettes, television, favorite foods, exercise, meds, the gas in your car and countless other vices and habits we nurture or loathe or deny.

Mary Wardell: Features Editor
Mary Wardell: Features Editor

Anything can be habit-forming, because human beings rely on routine for survival. We get comfort out of the familiar. But some habits are harder to quit than others.

Full disclosure: I have a few addictions. My boyfriend, coffee and yoga are a few. And unfortunately, cigarettes too. These things are, to varying degrees, necessary to my homeostasis.

Initially indignant about NMU’s tobacco-free policy, I felt adamant that smoking is my right. It’s my body.

The impacts of second-hand smoke when standing outside are negligible, especially with enforcement of the 30-foot-from-the-door rule, and the fact people can easily stand or walk plenty of places not right beside a smoker.

Meat is an addiction, too. And sugar. Both can cause disease and shorten your life.

Every time I tell anyone my dad utterly reversed his poor heart health by going vegan and cutting out fat (in one month, without medication, shocking his doctors), few seem interested in encouraging that kind of prevention. So there are double standards when it comes to health, and smoking happens to be an easy target.

If I get some sick existential comfort out of participating in my own gradual death, or I like the pause of meditative reflection, or the conversations I have while smoking, it’s my prerogative, I thought.

But I can rationalize until the cows come home, I realized, because I’m addicted to nicotine.

And I have to admit, that’s the only real reason I smoke. Ultimately, none of my arguments against the ban really hold up in my mind. The ban feels extreme, as prohibition always is. But it’s just on campus.

And there is a great deal to be gained from banning tobacco on campus. For one thing, I and my fellow smokers won’t be normalizing smoking for impressionable freshman on their own for the first time. Fewer students will fall prey to the addiction.

Then there’s the tough love wake-up call to all smokers: if you can’t wait to get off campus for a cigarette, learn to.

Sometimes rules (like dreaded deadlines) are the best way to get something done (or undone). Humans need help. My body is not just my own. It is deeply connected to the people I care about and who care about me. We are interdependent on each other, and when one person makes a healthy choice, it has ripple effects. And vice versa.

So I may not be thanking anyone now or when I’m going through the terrible withdrawal. (Smokers, my heart is with you whenever and however you quit, and I hope you do.)

But when I’m eventually unburdened of this addiction, I will be thankful. I’ll be thanking the smokers who have quit before me and all the nonsmokers who empathized and didn’t judge. And I’ll be thanking NMU for refusing to accept my excuses.