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Secondary tobacco smoke on university campuses

Walking across the LaTrobe University campus is a health hazard – particularly in the central Agora area* – because smokers inflict damaging consequences of their nicotine addiction habit on non-smokers by breathing cigarette smoke over them. It is not being prissy or faking an excessive concern – the US Surgeon General showed that no level of exposure to cigarette smoke is safe.  There is no critical minimum level of exposure with which health damages cease.  The University administration have a duty of care to staff and students – i do not know if they could be made legally liable for diseases that could be attributed to such secondary smoke.  My suggestion is to ban all cigarette smoking in any area of the university where there are non-smokers. That will almost end up almost amounting to a total ban on the campus although I guess a reasonable practical compromise would be to allow smokers to destroy their own health in the middle of an unoccupied sports oval. This program of severe restrictions is in place at the University of Sydney.  If the smoke impinges on the breaking space of non-smokers it is imposing an unwarranted heath hazard and should be outlawed.

The policy is increasingly employed on US college campuses. It should be universal and prevent people in any occupation or walk-of-life from having to experience secondary tobacco smoke.

Such policies also increase the inconvenience ‘user costs’ of smoking helping to save the health and the lives of those who smoke.  It also helps to discourage smoking initiation by expressing strong social disapproval of the activity as well as by imposing extra user costs.

* To the extent such smoking occurs within 2 metres of the entrance to buildings around Agora – it often does – it is prohibited under existing OHS legislation.  The university seems to turn a blind eye to such smoking.

14 comments to Secondary tobacco smoke on university campuses

  • Uncle Milton

    Harry, surely your proposed edict applies only to the smoking of tobacco. A university wouldn’t be authentic if the other kind of smoking were banned.

  • IC

    There has been quite a few campaigns on the social media sites to get smoking banned in the Agora specifically, usually met with much protest from those who’s supposed ‘freedom’ to smoke where they want is impeded by such a move. Walking through there gives me the shits, for the smoke as well as butts around campus. Some ashtrays wouldn’t go astray.

  • davidp

    Both Lehigh and Cornell Universities have a bit stronger policies – no smoking within 15 and 25 feet of university buildings – this would almost completely clear out the Agora.

  • conrad

    “The university seems to turn a blind eye to such smoking.”

    You should complain and note that it’s against OHS laws — if it’s blowing into offices etc. then its clearly illegal. If they don’t do anything after asking them, you can email Healthsafe Victoria (or whatever it’s called now), and they’ll do something. I suspect violations of OHS regulations they are caught for would drive up their insurance premiums, so I imagine the probability they’ll do something is essentially 100% if they get inspected.

  • Chris Lloyd

    “It is not being prissy or faking an excessive concern.” Yes it is. Breathing car exhaust is way worse than a 10 second exposure walking across the Ag. The risks are miniscule and depend much more on length of exposure than intensity.

    Actually, I am not against banning smoking – entirely and permanently. I just don’t like OHS nazism being the vehicle because that movement is already seriosuly out of hand.

  • Robert (not from UK)

    Do smokers do any actual work at all? Certainly the smokers with whom I have had the misfortune to share office space, over the years (never in an academic environment, BTW, and not recently in any environment, Deo gratias), have behaved exactly like the ditsy woman on a certain greeting card, who boasts of taking so many smoke breaks as to have reduced her entire working day to a manageable 45 minutes.

  • hc

    Chris, An interesting argument. Car exhaust fumes cause greater damage (I agree they are damaging) so it is reasonable to force people to put up with tobacco smoke.

    Why is OHS out of hand? Who says? Not the US Surgeon General at least with respect to secondary tobacco smoke.

  • John Mashey

    Presumably LaTrobe asthma sufferers stay away from the area.

    This is descrption of smoking bans, by state, in US. Universities (and some towns) often pass more stringent rules. State law says no closer to buildings than 20 feet (6m).

    Nearby Stanford banned indoor smoking ~30 years ago, and at outdoors gatherings. The medical school banned it entirely in its section of the campus. UC San Francisco banned smoking entirely on campus a few years ago.*
    Cigarette executives don’t smoke. They “reserve that right for the poor, the young, the black and the stupid.” (see the review, quoting the Winston Man).

    *Of course, UCSF is a center of research on smoking.

  • Jim Rose

    I do not like smoking at all. I have no problem with making not smoking a condition of entry onto private property. I would avoid places that allowed smoking.

  • MikeM

    University of Sydney’s campuses are now largely smoke-free. Or at least people are not supposed to smoke there apart from a handful of designated smoking spots, http://sydney.edu.au/whs/wellbeing/smoke-free.shtml. Maybe this is resulting in a concentration of smokers at LaTrobe.

  • John Mashey

    I talked at UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research & Education and spent the rest of the day with them trading info. UCSF is home to the indispensable resource, Legacy Tobacco Documents Library.

    I asked them how universities were doing in eliminating/lessening smoking on campus.

    (a) Pretty well.

    (b) And in response, tobacco companies were going all-out at bars and other student gathering places around campuses.

    Is there any evidence of that in Australia?

  • hc

    John, Big tobacco is on the retreat in Australia. There is no advertising and cigarettes are concealed at point of sales. Smoking is banned in all bars and public places – even in cars with non-smokers. The firms are mainly focused on defeating the plain packaging legislation but that was passed unanimously by both sides of politics. I think Australia leads the world in anti-carcinogen effort.

  • John Mashey

    HC: thanks, good to hear.
    It sounds like Australia is more consistent, whereas US varies greatly by state.
    If you’re ever coming to SF Bay Area, you ought to touch base with Stan Glantz and offer to do a talk for UCSF Tobacco Control and compare notes with them.

  • IC

    HC, there have been two new campaigns of late with regards to smoking in the Agora specifically. A smoke-free group has, I believe, gathered a large number of signatures on this issue. In response to this a ‘smokers rights’ group has popped up in response – https://www.facebook.com/SmokingRightsInTheAgora?fref=ts