Ban Smoking on Campus?

A recent 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.