Butts vs. benefits

Tim Eggert

On any given day, at any given time, you might pass by a cluster of NMU students gathered on the outskirts of campus. These groups aren’t gangs, nor are they student clubs; they’re students complying to the university’s recent “tobacco-free” policy.

As of August 2014, the policy has effectively banned all tobacco products from being consumed on university property. Areas excluded from the ban are: public sidewalks and roadways bordering campus, personal vehicles with windows closed and NMU’s golf course.

This year marks the second anniversary of the policy, and my first year at NMU. Oh, and I’m a smoker.

As a junior-level transfer student, I’ve previously attended two universities with tobacco-tolerative campuses. Before coming to NMU, I was aware of the newly enacted policy, and felt no deterrence from it.

Now that I’m here, however, I feel inducted into a campus minority: the smokers. I don’t mean “minority” in the sense of an ethnically or religiously oppressed group. I mean it in its purest form: a group distinguished from, and less dominant than the more numerous majority.

In my case, and the few dozen other students that converge off campus on sidewalks, we are the smoker minority.

Although I don’t consider myself outcasted by my peers, the recent restrictions implemented by the university make me feel separated from them.

Sure, guilt-inducing glares aren’t encouraging, but I’m not unaccustomed to that. What I am unfamiliar with is an additional majority: the university itself.

According to the university website, “the resolution promotes a healthier lifestyle and safer campus.”

After a campus-wide survey in 2013 resulted in  60 percent favor of the proposal, NMU withdrew one more piece of our millennial souls. Yes, this was a democratic decision.

Our self-induced policy is to benefit the whole college-community, right? No doubt. Second-hand smoke is now contained to any person sharing a sidewalk with a smoker, and campus is relatively rid of lingering cig-butts.

Two years into rehab, these changes seem valuable to a wholesome campus, but here I am taking a drag from the corner of Wright and Neidhart. The policy has its obvious benefits, but in reality, it fuels a partitioned community.

I know the university did not intend to divide the college community; smoking is a polar activity in its own right. But, placing smokers at the edge of campus places us at the edge of society. As a sort of campus wide nicotine patch, these methods seem to contradict the university’s philosophy of unity.

Smokers aren’t the esteemed social nucleus of campus, and I don’t feel directly benefited from the policy as the “majority” may be.

Since smoking spots are not sponsored by the university, we can expect them to be ill-equipped with the same luxuries as on campus.

The lack of seating and tree-cover may be the university’s method of inducing us to quit, but the absence of these simple amenities doesn’t seem to embody equality. Rather than be surrounded by inner campus culture, I feel reduced to the privilege of butt-collecting buckets on the curb.

The walk off campus can be majorly inconvenient. Having to post-up on the sidewalk is not ideal, but honestly, adapting to the policy has been tolerable.

I smoke when I need a break from homework and to relieve stress between classes. Now, I can take longer breaks, get in a spot of exercise, and see more of campus.

To me, the smokers I’ve met are some of the most brilliant and eccentric people of the college community.

Albeit now limited, smoking is a necessary risk. It alleviates the pressure of school and society, and contributes directly to my wholesomeness.

I could go on the patch, or use university resources to quit, but life’s too short. For now, I’ll stick with the minority and have a smoke, while we still can.