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Stop, drop and roll: Smoking policy needs to be put out

Last year's conflict between Duke Student Government and Campus Council over which group has authority over residential concerns unfortunately overshadowed one of the issues that spurred this debate in the first place--smoking. For the first time, smokers will not be allowed to smoke in their private dorm rooms. (I wonder what Washington Duke, a prominent tobacco baron and the University's namesake, would have to say about this.) Even though a campus resolution last year supported the ban, the will of the student body should not be the first consideration of the University in this case. Like any policy, the ban on smoking is only as effective as its enforcement.

At the moment, the administration can hardly combat underage drinking, both on West and East Campus. After last year's dialogue on marijuana use at Duke, it is apparent that some students are smoking illegal substances in their dorm rooms and not getting caught. I ask, then, how does the University plan to enforce a ban on smoking tobacco? The University has not answered this question because it knows it cannot effectively enforce the policy.

Upperclassmen are surely aware that both die-hard smokers and "social smokers" light a cigarette with every drink at parties on West Campus. Where do these parties take place? In common rooms and in dorm rooms themselves. I can understand how residential advisers might be able to enforce non-smoking in individual rooms throughout the week, but it is simply preposterous to assume that the University can eliminate smoking at frat parties. Party monitors running around dormitories with squirt guns looking for the next blazing cigarette hardly seems like an effective use of University resources, though I must admit I would be entertained by the scenario.

Indeed, the ineffectiveness of Big Brother with a Super Soaker 2000 to take out smokers is reason enough not to implement this ban, but I am sure the health-conscious out there are concerned that lethal smoke will drift under their doors and suffocate them at night. This is definitely not a reason to enforce the ban. As far as I am aware, smokers have always been allowed to smoke in their rooms. Non-smokers next door who have been bothered by smoke have been able to talk to their smoker neighbors about it (promoting a community of non-smokers and smokers!) Smokers, on the whole, tend to be self-conscious about their "nasty habit" and would be more than willing to stop smoking in the room or place a fan in the window to pull smoke outside if a problem arises.

If non-smokers are unhappy with this solution, perhaps the University could create "smoking dorms" or even non-smoking dorms, just as we already have a substance-free dorm on East. The fact that the University asks incoming students their smoking preference in the housing questionnaire indicates the University's ability to locate smokers and smoker-friendly students in the same dorms. Frat houses could also be designated smoking or non-smoking. "A room for two? Will that be smoking or non-smoking?"

The last time I checked my mailbox, I noticed that Duke is still located in North Carolina. It is not located in Oregon. The surrounding city and state have not established stringent bans on smoking in public places. I can still walk to Vin Rouge and enjoy a glass of Shiraz and my trusty Parliaments. You, yes you, can still jog around the loop on East Campus and puff on your Marlboro Light. Duke is again jumping on the university bandwagon. So what if other schools have banned smoking? Each college or university has its own unique social environment concerning parties, drinking and smoking. Even so, do you really believe that smokers in smoke-free schools in California now congregate outside every time they need a smoke break? Highly unlikely.

Concealing smoke is not as hard as you might think. Consider all of the high school students out there smoking in their bedrooms and bathrooms without their parents' knowledge. Now consider all of the college students at smoke-free schools (now including Duke) smoking in their bedrooms without their neighbors' knowledge. The past system of handling "smoke disturbances" through a one-on-one negotiation between neighbors has and can continue to be effective, and it has the potential to work even better now that there is campus-wide dialogue on the issue. In short, smokers are much more likely to respect the wishes of non-smokers if smokers feel this respect is reciprocal.

As I am perpetually kicking the habit, I understand that the University is simply attempting to promote a healthier lifestyle and protect the health of the student body. However, the effectiveness of this policy is reduced to a symbolic gesture by the administration, whether for show in the university world or for the health of Duke students. Though it is kind, this is entirely unnecessary. The administration needs to pursue practical policies that it can realistically enforce (to start, the alcohol policy). The promotion of individual negotiations, which respect both smokers and non-smokers, seems like a more practical and much less bureaucratic way of handling offensive smoke. If anything, with this new ban the administration will have to implement yet another policy. Who's going to monitor the cigarette monitors who find a new use for Aristocrat and the Super Soaker 2000?

Christopher Scoville is a Trinity sophomore. His column appears regularly.

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