A campus-wide smoking ban goes into effect a little over a month from now. Much has been said and written on this subject ever since the ban was made official earlier this semester. Last week, a forum was held detailing the ban. This forum was intended to inform students of what this new ban will entail, but essentially gave every indication that this ban is ultimately destined to do nothing.
I’m not speaking against or for banning smoking on campus. If a majority of students and faculty vote for what is clearly defined as a ban of smoking on campus, then that ought to be enacted because it is the people’s will. And this is not a slam on the University of South Dakota Student Government Association. They do good work for the students, but they can do better work, and that starts with arguing and enacting more substantive legislation.
The smoking ban, as is, comes off as little more than what I like to call “pat-on-the-back legislation.” This is when legislative bodies pass laws, statutes and resolutions aimed at real issues that offer nothing in the way of enforcement or action on the issue. They make the legislators feel good and believe they can pat themselves on the back because they’ve made a difference on the issue, when in fact, nothing has been accomplished but a colossal waste of everyone’s time.
First, there’s the issue of enforcement. At the forum, after months of ambiguity on how those defying the ban would be punished, it was finally revealed: business cards. Not fines or sanctions seen under other smoking bans but business cards handed out to ban breakers stating that USD is a smoke-free campus. Repeated violations will result in a meeting with student life to answer the question as to why they keep violating the ban. This is not a punishment; this is an inconvenience for both parties involved. There appears to be nothing for any violations beyond that. It will do nothing to deter smokers.
And it’s still ambiguous just who will be handing these cards out. The student body? I’m not going to hand any cards out because, ultimately, I have much better things to do with my time than hand out business cards to every smoker I see that truly isn’t doing anything wrong to me personally. And how much will this constant printing of these business cards cost the university? How reliable will this tactic of enforcement be? What will make this more effective than the 25 ft. restriction that has proven difficult to enforce? These are outstanding questions that should’ve been answered with initial announcement of the ban, not hastily thrown together with gaping holes a month before it goes into practice.
And then there is the issue of the poll. A poll conducted Feb. 8, 2011 found 62 percent of those surveyed believed the campus needed more smoking restrictions. A broad term, this can mean anything from extending the 25 ft. restriction to 50 ft. to a full ban. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed said they’d support a smoke-free campus. However, only 12 percent of students responded to it. Furthermore, faculty was excluded from voting even though the potential restrictions would effect their workplace environment just as much as students. Proponents of the ban simply can’t contend the majority of students support a full-on smoking ban when not even a quarter of them voted to begin with.
My advice to the SGA is not to scrap the idea of a smoke-free campus, but rather to scrap this ban as it is and start anew. Come up with a new smoke-free campus statute. Come up with substantial but reasonable enforcement ideas and punishments such as fines. They don’t need to be draconian, just enough to deter the act of smoking rather than simply make a slight inconvenience for the people who violate the ban. Make the proposal as clearly as possible and have the vast majority of students and faculty who use this campus vote on it. If the majority votes to enact a smoking ban on campus, then it was the people’s will. It will take time and leg work, but will be a piece of legislation that makes a difference rather than feel like it makes a difference.