After issuing a campus survey to gauge student opinion, Student Senate is preparing to propose greater restrictions on smoking at Knox. Junior and Student Senate Health and Wellness Chair Carolyn Ginder characterized the proposal as a response to students’ health and environmental concerns about the amount of smoking on campus.
“Some people can’t even have their windows open because there’s a smoke that’s constantly coming in,” Ginder said. “No one wants to not be able to breathe while they’re trying to get an education.”
Of particular concern to the senate was the effect smoking has on students with asthma. The issue is a personal one for Ginder, suffering from a form of asthma herself, who says smoking regularly gets in the way of students like her.
“Being around smoke, it makes me feel like my lungs sort of can’t breathe,” Ginder said. “It’s hard for me to go and walk to class and then try to have my lungs workingÉ after I’ve been exposed to smoke.”
Freshman Mujtaba Hassan, a senator who also found the issue of smoking concerning when he arrived on campus, considered it an issue of students’ rights to not be exposed to smoke.
“A lot of my friends were distressed cause most of them are non-smokers, I’m a non-smoker myself,” Hassan said. “The smoking minority is basically in a way undermining the rights of the non-smoking majority.”
Ginder characterized student response to the survey as large, with between a third to a fourth of the campus answering it, with 87 percent of non-smokers supporting more restrictions.
Ginder also stated that smokers who filled out the senate’s survey expressed understanding of the issue and problems smoking may cause for students suffering from asthma. She noted that Health Services offers free resources to students seeking to quit smoking, which was commonly expressed in the survey.
“When I came here, because my parents weren’t here, because I sort of had a friend group who were fine with me smoking, I felt like I could smoke more,” junior George Jensen said.
Jensen began smoking at age 17 and recently quit, a choice he attributed to environmental and long-term health concerns, but also because of an upcoming surgery. Jensen did not find quitting smoking difficult in his case, in his opinion because of having only smoked 3 to 4 years.
“Mostly it was just me figuring out what to do with my hands when I was standing directly outside,” he said. “You sort of form this psychological connection between being outside and having to do something and having to smoke.”
Jensen generally felt that that the issue of smoking needed to be looked into more, finding suggestions like a complete ban too hasty. However, he was open to idea of addressing smoking as a problem.
“Smoking is bad for you, it’s bad for the world, it’s bad for people who work in the industry, so yeah, that’s an important step in the right direction to acknowledge that as a problem,” he said.
Sophomore Matt Milewski has smoked since the age of 14, with occasional attempts at quitting that haven’t lasted. While Milewski acknowledges the downsides of smoking, he says he presently has no interest in quitting.
“I think that this narrative of ‘we’re going to save the smokers’… it’s very misguidedly charitable and demeaning, because I don’t want to be saved… I’m fine with it,” he said.
Milewski characterized smoking as functioning as a stress relief for him, it being ingrained from his family and upbringing to use smoking as a way to manage life.
“It makes it easier if I can have a cigarette once in a while. It calms me downÉ I know it’s not the healthiest way of doing that, but yeah it does make my life easier,” he said.
Milewski follows general principles to be courteous to others on campus such as smoking away from buildings and keeping to the grass instead of the sidewalk when passing between classes.
“If I’m talking to somebody I’m not going to stand there and blow smoke directly in their face,” he said.
Milewski has largely heard negative responses from friends who smoke about possible restrictions, and suspects that if something as extreme as a ban went through it would be largely ineffective.
“I’m not going to walk all the way off campus. If a ban comes through, I’m going to keep smoking on campus and everybody else will too. You can’t really snuff it out,” he said.
Ginder acknowledged that in meetings with administrators, the possibility of a campus smoking ban was brought up. However, this is not what Ginder and the Student Senate intend to propose, favoring the creation of designated smoking areas and more enforcement of the 15 feet from a building rule.
Ginder pointed out that campuses such as the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have gone as far as to institute smoking bans, making her believe the moderate suggestions she intends to propose to the school are not unreasonable.
“We figured that this was the best sort of middle ground that we could come toÉ even when people come and visit the school, and then people with asthma will see people smoking, and say ‘that’s not a place where we can be,’” she said.
While Milewski was more open to the idea of smoking areas, he remained skeptical of their necessity, believing that as long as smokers are being courteous there is not a significant threat posed to others at Knox.
“People talk about second hand smoke, but when you’re outside in an open air environment that’s not really a factor if there’s a lot of space,” Milewski said. “There’s no difference between me smoking on a sidewalk by myself, and me smoking in the smoking area by myself.”
Jensen pointed out that smoking restrictions would not just impact students but others on campus like school employees, expressing concern about them not getting a say in the matter.
“I think there’s more of a problem with smoking than just making people do it somewhere else,” Jensen said. “There’s got to be a network for people who are quitting, alternatives for smoking, and some consciousness of what groups are most vulnerable.”
Milewski does believe smokers should stay away from windows and that the 15-foot rule should be better enforced, but characterized this enforcement as a responsibility that falls on RAs and other students.
“I don’t think that it’s the school’s jurisdiction to determine whether or not I get to smoke. I think that’s kind of silly and a little demeaning,” he said.