Issue 12, Semester 1, 2019
The University of Melbourne prides itself on being a safe, and inclusive, space for all those who find themselves within its grand old grounds. As part of its commitment to healthy spaces, the University banned all smoking (and vaping, chewing, etc.) on any campus. The powers-that-be recognised that not only can second-hand smoke be injurious in the long term, but it also presents an immediate danger to asthmatics (such as myself), and others who are differently-abled. This is to say nothing of the sheer unpleasantness inherent to walking through a cloud of someone else’s already-circulated, foul-smelling air, multiple times a day.
This regulation was by no means popular. People resent being told how to live their lives, and especially so when they perceive they are being preached to. The result is that many people simply choose to ignore the ban (or are unaware of it). At the law school, this is evident from the pack of nicotine junkies taking a hit right outside the front doors, nearly constantly throughout the day. To be clear, I bear no actual ill-will towards my friends who duck outside for a cigarette, but it’s incumbent upon all of us to consider the ways in which our actions affect those around us, and change our behaviour accordingly. Thus, this critique is more than a fist-shaking rant about a minor inconvenience. The health and accessibility issues this topic raises are serious, and should be taken seriously.
No smoker is unaware of the harmful effects of their smoking to themselves, no doubt having had it pointed out to them on a regular basis. However, they may be less aware of the impact their smoking has on those around them. Statistics on second-hand smoke morbidity are difficult to come by in Australia, however, according to The Cancer Council (Vic), for every ten smokers that die in comparable societies, such as the US and UK, one person dies of second-hand smoke exposure. Why should the health of those around you be imperilled, for any reason? Why, for that matter, should non-smokers be left short of breath? Why should asthmatics risk attacks, passing through the miasma of airborne ash that hangs in front of the law school doors on a still day?
Blanket smoking bans, such as the one imposed by UniMelb, raise delicate questions around personal liberty. Such concerns should be heard out. Banning the sale or use of tobacco products in a private setting is a clear overreaction. However, tobacco is like many other drugs, in that externalities creep beyond voluntary users. As a matter of personal opinion, I agree that individuals should be free to do with their bodies as they wish. However, smoking in public places is not a responsible way of exercising that right. It may seem innocuous to many of us, who have grown up with smoking still prevalent amongst large tracts of the population. However, on its harms and merits, smoking in public just doesn’t stack up. There is no other way in which endangering the health of others, to such a degree, would be viewed with such forbearance.
This is not the kind of issue one should have to grin and bear. To the University, I say: please take enforcement of our smoking rules seriously. To those who smoke: please recognise the discomfort you cause, and make moves to mitigate it. I freely acknowledge that I’m a wet blanket — I certainly do hope to succeed in extinguishing something.
Grimaldus is a First Year JD Student.