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Making Mercer a smoke-free campus was the wrong choice


BrittCurry copyOn January 1, 2013, a controversial campus-wide smoking ban took effect at Mercer. When the policy was announced, a few students said they appreciated the idea of a less smoky environment, but the majority either didn’t care about it or were against it.

Those who opposed the policy naturally included smokers, but also included students like me, who –smokers or not– who realized the smoking huts had values beyond the obvious.

Smokers and non-smokers alike used to use the smoking huts as a point of reference for navigation around a campus which lacks adequate signage.

They also served as a meet-up and networking spot where students would share ideas and information with others.

A lot of faculty members smoke and the huts were one of the few places that brought students and faculty together in an informal setting. They actually brought a community vibe to a community college that doesn’t have much of any.

Second year Business Administration major, Joe Manani told The VOICE “Yes, in addition to being a place to smoke, the smoke huts provided a place to socialize. By taking down the smoke huts, the college took away part of the community at the community college.

Third year Liberal Arts major, Matt Hogan, concurred with Manini’s view saying, “[The huts] helped me meet new friends and gave me a break from school, which is much needed in the stressful school year.”

Admins have said part of the need for the policy is because students didn’t use the huts and left butts around the campus. But it’s unrealistic to think that 100 percent of the campus’s 9,000+ students and 700+ full and part-time faculty who smoke are going to quit because of the ban. It’s even more unrealistic to imagine that faculty, who are on campus far more hours per day than many students, are going to go to their cars every time they need a cigarette. The net result being people are going to sneak around to smoke and thus cigarette butts will be scattered all over campus.

The butts are unsightly and carcinogenic, particularly for birds who die from eating them (though, I guess most of the birds have moved away now that we have cut down 142 trees in order to put in the lovely new solar array). The huts had ashtrays and they were used. Some people littered, sure, but most didn’t and didn’t want to. Now they are essentially forced to.

Some administrators have said that removing the smoking huts means cutting down on secondhand smoke, which is beneficial to everyone’s health.  If smokers who can’t quit find themselves running around looking for hiding places to smoke, they are just making a larger area where secondhand smoke can be encountered.

The health concerns about smoking are no joke, but there are some short-term tangible benefits in the form of stress reduction. The majority of Mercer students are from economically disadvantaged households and being poor is stressful. So is college.

A recent VOICE survey of 21 smoking students on Mercer’s West Windsor campus found 20 out of 21 believed smoking helped them relax when stressed.

The consequences of violating the new policy are warnings and tickets and being thrown off campus for repeated infractions. In that order. But who are we kidding here? Uniform enforcement of the new policy is obviously impossible.

Much like the ID tags, if too many people on campus don’t obey a policy it has no merit. And our security guards, many of them smokers themselves, have better things to do with their time than chase down and ticket smokers. It’s a demeaning position to put them in.

If you didn’t know better, you’d think Mercer was actually trying to drive students away by making the campus as unlivable and unfriendly as possible. The huts were prettier and quieter than the incredibly uncomfortable cafeteria which is the only real community area on the campus.

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