Earlier this year the Student Government Association at the College of Charleston began a debate as to whether the campus should be tobacco free.
The 52-acre campus is so uniquely integrated within the City of Charleston that I sometimes don’t know where the campus ends and the city begins — and I’m enrolled here.
A resolution banning the use of all tobacco products on campus was presented to the Student Senate, and what ensued was the liveliest debate of the year. A record number of students showed up to that meeting to voice their opinions, with the overwhelming majority opposed to the ban. Despite their objections the tobacco ban passed by a 14-8 margin.
The Faculty Senate, after a debate in which many of the issues raised by the faculty were the same as those raised by the students, rejected the resolution by a 15-14 vote.
Now the ultimate decision to pass and enforce the resolution is before the Board of Trustees. I hope that the board will continue this debate with a real discussion and not just a thoughtless vote based on, “Smoking is bad, no one should.”
There are three points I believe they need to keep in mind:
First, the College of Charleston is a one-of-a-kind institution that requires one-of-a-kind solutions. While it is true that other schools in the state have enacted tobacco bans, the argument that “everyone else is doing it” should never be enough to do anything.
This is something that most children are taught by their parents before they are 5: “If all your friends jumped off a cliff ...” You know the rest.
The result of this debate should not be seen as a chance to follow, but as an opportunity to lead, to set an example, and to show that a college campus can be a courteous and considerate place without the threat of punishment.
Second, the College already has a tobacco policy in place. In 2006, a sensible policy requiring smokers to smoke in one of the campus’ 24 designated smoking areas was enacted. These areas are labeled (some better than others) and equipped with ashtrays. While most students are unaware of these areas, with better promotion they would see more use.
The Board of Trustees should not make the mistake that so many governing bodies do — compounding the problem by layering on another level of regulation to regulate the original regulation.
I know everyone wants to receive a pat on the back (trustees included), but when the desire to just “get something done” becomes more important than the conversation about what is being done, the brakes need to be pumped.
Third, there is the issue of enforcement — or lack thereof. Under the new policy visitors and contractors must abide by the regulation, just as students do. Are students going to be walking up to construction workers who are enjoying a cigarette on their lunch break and say, “Hey, you can’t do that”?
Or if John Doe visiting from Idaho decides to take some pictures of our beautiful campus, are we going to write him a ticket because he is chewing tobacco?
I hope not. Southern hospitality is not conditional.
On the night the resolution failed in the Faculty Senate, a member of that body stood up and stated, “I did not take this job to be a policeman.”
Well said, and I did not enroll here to be a policeman either.
In the end, we are talking about a policy that is unrealistic, redundant and truly unenforceable. So as the Board of Trustees meets to discuss the policies and initiatives that create our culture on campus I hope they resist the pressure to just follow trends and instead work to find creative solutions for the College of Charleston’s unique place in the world.
Let me conclude by saying that I’m not a smoker. I have seen the negative effects it has on people’s health and I choose not to participate. I also know that when you live in a free society, sometimes people do things you do not agree with, and that’s awesome, because that means sometimes I can do and say things that not everyone agrees with.
So I’m not sticking up for my people, I’m just sticking up for people.
Kevin M. Phillips is a senior communication major at the College of Charleston. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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