Non-smokers hog all 239 acres of campus with their tobacco-less air, and smokers only have the two feet of sidewalks bordering the school.
Those massive Breathe Freely banners litter our campus greenery more than secondhand smoke ever did. They inform every literate person that passes them that UM very proudly bans smoking since the start of semester. Now let’s all hold hands, sing Kumbayah, and take a deep tobacco-free breath.
Smell that? It’s the smell of student rights wafting away.
At 18 years old, individuals can decide for themselves whether to smoke or not. For most smoking is an occasional stress-reliever or a social icebreaker. And for those that do smoke, the hazards of ingesting carcinogenic tobacco into the lungs is no secret. The University of Miami dismisses students’ ability to make health choices for themselves.
A little before midnight on a Sunday night, a hooded freshman hurriedly paces back and forth on the brick pathway along the lake joining Hecht Residential College to Eaton. He’s clad in all black, and hides from the lamp post’s aura in the shadows. The crimson embers from his cigarette burn brighter with each inhale.
“I’m just really stressed out and I’m not smoking near anyone,” the 19-year-old, who preferred to stay anonymous, pleads. “I live in the dorms and don’t have a car. Look, I’m not bothering anyone. If you want me to move away [from you] I will.”
I try to assure the anxious first-year I’m not going to tattle on him (I only asked why he was smoking tonight). But he throws out the butt, aiming towards the lake. It falls short and lands along the shore. When I look up, he’s already climbing Hecht’s stairs two-at-a-time, and retreats inside.
“Did you tell him to stop smoking and that it was a smoke-free campus?” Student Affairs Vice-President Gilbert Arias says enthusiastically during our phone interview.
When I tell him that I didn’t he doesn’t sound disappointed, but Arias explains that the enforcement of this new UM policy relies on the students and faculty.
“A UMPD cop can’t stop a student that is smoking on campus because it’s not against the law to smoke,” Arias points out. “It’s a state law to not smoke indoors, but this new policy is something we have to police ourselves.”
If a student smokes on campus, it’s the student’s and faculty’s responsibility that witness it to tell him or her to stop. However, if you do spot a student smoking and stay silent, you won’t be penalized either.
If faculty notice a student repeat-smoking, they are urged to inform the Dean of Students Office. According to Dean Lake, there was once a professor that would confiscate the student ID cards of smoking students and turn them into the DOSO office for discipline.
A controversial issue in the Tobacco-Free campus debate is the ban of electronic cigarettes. Even though they do not emit tobacco smoke, only water vapor, according to Arias, it is still considered smoking and prohibited on campus. “The message is to educate students that smoking is bad for your health,” Arias explains. “The reality is any type of smoking is bad for you and e-cigarettes is just one form of smoking.”
The nearest “designated” smoking areas are on the sidewalks bordering campus on San Amaro Drive and Ponce De Leon Boulevard because they are not on UM property. Many are concerned about safety as students quickly shuffle across the street and through congested parking lots to these sidewalks for a quick drag during the 15 minutes between classes.
“Doctor’s Hospital is actually smoke-free too,” Arias says. “So the only place you can smoke on that side of campus is on the road. And remember parking lots and and streets within the university are campus property too.”