In my 20 or so years of life, I have never once smoked a cigarette.
Scientific research has compiled mountains of evidence suggesting cigarette smoking is bad for one’s health.
Although this is the case and I personally do not smoke cigarettes, I would never tell someone they could not smoke cigarettes, as long as they were of legal age. However, the government does not share my philosophy.
On Sep. 12, the assistant secretary of health at the U.S. Department of Human Services, Howard Koh, announced the launch of a tobacco-free college campus initiative. This initiative aims to promote healthier living, while encouraging college campuses across America to become tobacco free.
Koh said the reasoning for this initiative is because of the nearly 1 million U.S. citizens who start smoking cigarettes after age 18 each year.
While this seems like a righteous and valiant effort against the evil that is tobacco, I find this initiative a little misguided by the U.S. government.
The government seems to think people are going to stop smoking cigarettes just because they would not be allowed to on a college campus. Sure, smokers might get disgruntled by the fact they cannot smoke somewhere — which is not new for them — but they are still going to smoke cigarettes.
A college student does not spend 100 percent of his or her time on campus. College students would still be able to freely smoke off campus. This initiative only accomplishes ridding physical campuses of cigarette smokers.
Many people would argue the initiative would be successful because college campuses would be tobacco free. This would be true, but at what cost?
I find that people seem to forget smokers are people too and therefore have the same rights set forth by the Constitution that we all enjoy. But increasingly, the government has passed laws to take rights from smokers and to inconvenience them enough to stop smoking.
While I can see there are benefits to prohibiting smoking in certain places — airplanes, restaurants, businesses, etc. — there are no benefits to prohibiting smoking in a wide open space.
There are a good number of students who smoke cigarettes on campus at Virginia Tech, but never in my three years here has someone smoking a cigarette in wide open air affected me. It is not like they are all walking up to me and exhaling the smoke into my face. Instead, they are peacefully walking and not disturbing anyone.
This initiative is just another attempt by the government to take away rights because of the perceived benefits to society. If the government truly — and I mean truly — believed it was in the best interest for everyone in society to not smoke cigarettes, they would be illegal. But because of the various monetary and political motives of the tobacco companies — which is not within the scope of this column — cigarettes becoming illegal is not going to happen.
There is no reason to strike a balance between smokers and non-smokers because, since smokers are the minority, their rights will be sacrificed for the “better good.”
First, it was the ads on television and magazines. Then, it was on airplanes. Then, it was in restaurants. And now, the government is really going to try stopping people from smoking in open air.
I understand and agree that secondhand smoke is harmful and should be mitigated. But if you are seriously scared of getting any form of lung disease because someone near you is peacefully smoking, then you need to learn about personal space and stop standing so close to them.
College has always been a place where you learn about yourself. You are able to do that because of the freedom you have. Away from our parents, and basically any form of adult supervision, we are allowed to express ourselves in the ways we want. I firmly believe this is a crucial time in our social development.
Although hard to believe, smoking cigarettes is one of those ways people express themselves, and it is a completely legal form of expression. Under no circumstance should honest, hardworking people be persecuted for something that is legal to do.
Countless times I have heard America referred to as the “Land of the Free.” While this is true, I cannot help but be skeptical when I see the amount of handcuffs the U.S. government puts on its citizens, literally and metaphorically.