A recent TommieMedia.com editorial about whether to ban smoking everywhere on the St. Thomas campus strikes a personal chord. I learned to smoke, to inhale, when I was a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

I rarely paid for a cigarette. I got them free, courtesy of the R.J. Reynolds Company: Salems, Winstons and Camels (straights, the ones we called coffin nails). Thus began a 25-year relationship with cigarettes, and they accompanied almost every part of my life – from the newsroom to the bar room.

Gina Dolski, the opinions editor of TommieMedia, concludes that a tobacco ban similar to the one just enacted at St. Catherine’s isn’t reasonable and might cause more problems than it solves. With empathy for the smokers, I disagree. I’d declare the whole campus smoke free.

No one talked about banning tobacco in 1960 at Wisconsin. In fact, R.J. Reynolds had reps all over campus passing out free 4-packs of its cigarettes. One of them was my roommate, and best friend.  He died last year of pancreatic cancer and, according to medical websites I’ve checked, smoking was probably a contributing factor.

Unlike me, Bob never kicked the habit and continued for all of his life as a two-pack-a-day guy. We all got hooked, a combination of feeling bullet-proof and an inclination to believe the tobacco companies’ doctors who testified before Congress that no link between lung cancer and smoking “had been proved.”

We knew better, we surely did. Bob acknowledged as much on a Canadian fishing trip a decade ago when I asked him to consider “cutting down,” fearful that we’d lose him too soon. “I’m not stupid, Nim,” he said, indicating he’d tried to quit – several times.

“I don’t like life without tobacco,” he said, and then he asked me not to bring up the matter again. I didn’t, not even when I visited him in Oklahoma two months before he died. Ironically, he was no longer smoking, nor was he eating much.

I can’t judge Bob harshly. He was the best man I ever met. I shared his addiction to tobacco, and still do. If I knew the planet would explode next week and all life as we know it would vanish, I’d go out, buy a pack of Luckies and sit on the curb drinking a Starbuck’s dark roast and pounding a Lucky.

So, I can hardly be contemptuous of smokers. But the tobacco ban makes sense to me for several reasons:

• St. Thomas is a university, all about educating and enlightening. The only enlightened position about smoking cigarettes is DON’T – at least not on our turf.

• We already make life tough on the smokers. They can’t smoke inside. When they smoke on a break outside, we make ’em huddle like refugees around an ashtray.

• Suppose instead of three hours without a puff, they had to go eight. Who’s to say they couldn’t – if not kick the habit – at least knock it back a bit?

The only loser would be state governments that tax a pack of cigarettes an average of $1.45: Virginia is at 30 cents, Minnesota $1.57 and New York $4.35.

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13 Responses

  1. Tom, St. Paul

    There are many times when choices must be made between personal freedom and the common good. The invasive nature of second-hand smokeand the stunning inability of smokers to dispose of their butts properly are reason enough to ban smoking on campus.

    I agree with Dave Nimmer that the university atmosphere should be one of educating. Can we, at the very least, have our uiniversity’s policies reflect an educated view of the powerfully addictive nature, and the physically destructive power, of tobacco?

  2. Tom, Minneapolis

    I don’t think you should ban smoking on campus.

    Yes, I believe it is a poor health choice, but when I came here I found no one more willing to accept an outsider as those who were outside smoking. Whether it be hookah, cigars or cigarettes, people were welcoming. All you have to do is walk up and start talking and you become fast friends. The smokers have become one of the only groups I can hang out with. During the week I’m busy studying and rarely have time to go out to smoke hookah or an occasional cigar, but on weekends when the campus is empty of students who have mainly gone to the U of M or some house to party and drink, the smokers stay behind. There is a group smoking hookah for me to join so I am not sitting in my room with nothing to do and no one to see.

    Abolishing smoking on campus would do nothing more than chase away students who stay on campus. Would it not be smarter to allow smoking on campus and give an alternative to going out partying?

    There usually is very academic talk circling the table as we sit there and smoke. Last night, I managed to escape my homework early and join others for a small amount of time, and what did I find? Some people had their homework out there, asking their friends for help on topics they did not know.

    Smoking is not all bad. As someone once said, let us remember that you have the freedom to choose your actions, but you don’t have the freedom to choose the consequences of your actions.

  3. Carlos, St. Paul

    I believe that it is time to do it: Ban smoking!

    I smoked beginning when I was 13, but I quit cold turkey some 20 years ago. The craving still is there. Gosh, such powerful chemicals are added. But at the same time I feel the nausea when entering most everyplace and breaking through a curtain of smokers.

    The time has come: Ban smoking!

    Get 10 times 30 cents, $1.57 or $4.35 in taxes from the offenders.

  4. Zack, St. Paul

    A smoking ban on campus would be a terrible idea. Try enforcing it. I know this would be a failure because people who smoke would still smoke. People break rules.

    Instead, build designated smoking areas with benches and butt cans. This would be a better alternative because then people who want to smoke would be able to while not bothering anyone else with the unpleasant smell of smoke and the ugliness of all the butts on the ground.

    Interesting topic, nonetheless.

  5. Tommie, St. Paul

    Is you are trying to ban smoking on campus because it is bad, than all things should be banned and restricted: Riding bikes, texting and walking … this is a free country and private Catholic school!

  6. Steve, St. Paul

    Thank you for sharing your article with the online community! I completely support this notion.

    Despite the smoking not allowed in the buildings on campus, the smoke still wafts in through doorways due to these “huddles” of smokers around doors. As it gets colder, more of them will accumulate, making the smell stronger and the smoke thicker.

    Even though I am a non-smoker, I still understand those who oppose this. It takes away their personal freedom to smoke where they want to. It is a person’s decision to smoke cigarettes, and that is not something I feel should be forced to dissipate. On the other hand, I do feel that everyone around them should not have to smoke the cigarette with the smokers through second-hand smoke as they walk to classes and through campus. There is not a day that goes by that I do not encounter second-hand smoke somewhere on campus. Having lung issues myself and choosing not to smoke, it then almost becomes a violation of my personal freedom of clean air and causes health problems for me. The decisions of those who smoke affect the health of not only themselves but of everyone around them as well.

    To make a long story short, I would appreciate smoking banned on campus as a benefit to my own health and the health of students everywhere on campus. It would clean up our sidewalks of cigarette butts and clean our air of smoke.

    I pray for all those who are addicted to smoking cigarettes and want to quit, as it is a very difficult thing to do. Know that you are in my prayers each and every day in your journey to ridding yourself of this habit.

  7. Nick, St. Paul

    Good luck enforcing this. You rip on cigarettes, which most people would agree are not positive for your health, but what about cigars? Cigar smokers are not addicted to their cigars. They smoke to relax and only once in awhile. A cigar smoker can’t pound a cigar in 10 or even 15 minutes; a good cigar should take around an hour.

    Before anyone rips on cigars as worse than cigarettes, consider this: a good cigar is 100 percentage natural, with no added chemicals that cigarettes have, and to inhale a cigar you would have to out of your mind. People do not inhale cigars; they do not destroy their lungs.

    If there is going to be a smoking ban, St. Thomas should be a dry campus. Who wants to die of alcohol poisoning? While you’re at it, ban caffeine, the most abused drug in ASmerica.

    You are infringing on our rights to make our own decisions in life. Let us forge our own way forward.

  8. John, St. Paul

    1. You’re saying that you were allowed to smoke all through your college days (which you regretted) … cool, I’m glad you’re telling me I shouldn’t be allowed, too!

    2. You honestly think our campus’ Public Safety office is going to be able to heavily enforce this new ban if passed? I highly doubt St. Thomas will hire more officers to patrol the campus looking for smokers. Logistically, with the size of our campus, the amount of students, and the amount of public safety officers on duty at any given time, it makes no sense that they will be able to enforce this ban.

    3. You think this will make students quit? Wrong. It will just make them puff another heater or two or three after that long break away from smoking for three to eight hours, as you suggested.

    4. “It’s a University” … a place about education … Yeah, we’re all aware of that fact; it’s also full of housing, and students LIVE there, too! We’re all conscious, decision-making, young adults. The university isn’t our father, nor are you.

    5. Finally, time and time again, history shows that when you taboo something, usage usually goes up! You don’t agree with me? Well, I beg you to come on a set of rounds with an RA on any given weekend night in a freshmen dorm on campus…They aren’t all drinking because they enjoy the taste of alcohol, you know; they do it because it’s dangerous and exciting and they have heard that they can’t do it legally until they’re 21. The rules against it make it one fun game to play!

    On that note, if you want to ban tobacco usage on campus, completely ban alcohol on campus as well. And if underage people get caught on campus, actually give them minors through St. Paul police. I have a hard time justifying alcohol usage considering what you’re suggesting for the banning of smoking. What are the health positives of alcohol?! It’s stupid to ban one thing while not banning others. Alcohol, caffine, etc., are all bad for you, yet you can have those on campus.

  9. Andrew, St. Paul

    I realize that the ban is coming, and what I say here will not prevent it. However, as much as I support the idea of encouraging people to quit, I’m sure that a lot of college students (and staff and faculty, for that matter), are not ready to try to quit, nor want to.

    The funny thing about education: it only piles up more and more as time goes on, and the amount of work that is expected of college students grows each year, causing increasing stress. As (Dave Nimmer) said, “We already make life tough” by forcing them to smoke outside as to not disturb other people in buildings, but for those who need a quick fix to relax and get back to studying, you’re going to force them into unwanted cravings that will hinder their abilities to study rather than aid them.

    I admire that you (Dave), after your 25-year addiction, are pushing to help these kids realize their waste of money and health, but you have to consider that most of these people aren’t even 25 years old. They haven’t been able to experience a long duration of the habit and gain personal insight from it. That comes with time, not necessarily by enforcement of others.

    Take the oh-so-wonderful example of alcohol. Sure, there’s a ban on it for anyone under 21, but let’s be serious: how many people haven’t had a drink, even at college, who isn’t 21? I’d say it’s well under 10 percent. The ban isn’t going to stop people who really want to smoke. Quite frankly, when it’s the standard frigid winter Minnesota … if they’re daring enough to go out for a quick puff, let ’em.

  10. Tom King, West St. Paul

    Dave, you wrote a sentient and sensible piece on the smoking ban issue. I recall the days in the late ’50s back in our quonset Grill where the smoke was thicker than that awful 10-cent coffee, neither of which reduced our addiction to both.

    My fine liberal education at St. Thomas those many years ago led me to conclude that smoking doesn’t belong on campus. It’s been eradicated on K-12 sites, healthcare complexes and in many business environs, too.

    My sainted mother, rest her soul, tried so hard to quit her lifelong addiction to nicotine, but was so addicted she couldn’t. It contributed to her early passing, her doctor said.

    Some smoke their ways well into a long life and never seem to suffer ill effects. What we have here is one of those pesky correlative issues. But correlation is not causation, right?

    No, it is not. But it sure is a smelly, stinky habit that can turn both the ciggie fingers and lungs brown. Ever see that plasticized cadaver exhibit showing the lungs of a smoker? OK, OK … I also saw what a fatty diet can do to me.

    Perhaps, in Christian charity, our being a Catholic institution of higher learning and all, we could make our campus smoke-free. No more whiffs of smoke as we approach a building entrance, no more huddled masses in subzero weather to evoke empathy, no more butts that litter the grounds near the dispensers.

    That said, personal choice is a steep price to pay.

  11. Kari, Minneapolis

    It is an unreasonable connection you are implying between Big Tobacco reps passing out freebies and an institution NOT banning the practice of smoking. Allowing the act of smoking on the property is not the same as approval of smoking and even further away from encouraging it.

    This isn’t a grade school here. Everyone who works or attends here should be an adult and should be very well capable of making his or her own decisions and mistakes. It is not the job of parents, friends, or administrators to prohibit mistakes.

    Banning is the opposite of “enlightening.”

    Just because “we already make life tough on the smokers” does not just make it okay to make things worse. That is like saying, “Gee, life is pretty bad for that homeless guy. I might as well take his coat.”

    And again, it is not up to us nor is it our right to make a fully capable, legal adult quit or “knock it back a bit.”

  12. Nathan, Minneapolis

    Thank you for sharing your personal story to advocate a universal health issue, Dave. Rarely do I care about an individual’s “personal” take on a social issue that could affect others, but your honesty, especially “if the end of the world occurred tomorrow,” made this article a perfect note in the smoke-free debate. Unfortunately, I know too many of our UST Admins would fight this ban from ever taking effect. So until then …

  13. John, St Paul

    It is great to want to help others, but this disordered. It is removing the freedom of the individual to choose whether or not to enjoy a smoke by dictating that they can’t do the very thing you (Nimmer) had the freedom to do. Perhaps it is best to have the freedom than to dictate to others by limiting their free choice and mandating a no smoking ban throughout the entire campus. Typical left-wing morality. The Catholic principle of subsidiarity teaches that we must leave as much freedom as possible to the lowest point, that being the individual in this case.