My last article for this paper concerned New Year’s Eve, but this one will concern New Year’s Day, because on Jan. 1, 2014 tobacco became an illicit substance at UCSB. In compliance with a UC-wide anti-smoking initiative, UCSB signed and enacted a university regulation forbidding any and all tobacco use on its campus, including residence halls and parking lots.
Most of us were unaffected because we, for the most part, live in a world with very few smokers. Roughly eight percent of UCSB students use nicotine in some form, which means that over 18,000 of us do not touch the stuff. Few of us know many regular smokers within our friend groups, and the ones we do know often will admit only to smoking joylessly and irregularly. Nonetheless, it is strange how, on a campus that celebrates and empowers minority groups of all kinds, the minority that the habitual smokers compose has such a small voice and is anything but celebrated.
This dismissal of the habitual smoker is exactly why I think we need to be cautious in the way we think about and treat the problem of unhealthy smoking. The culture has so succeeded in stigmatizing smoking that many smokers are self-loathing. The rest of us are free to be anti-smoking, and (far from suffering backlash) this can make us seem like heroes and life-savers. Thus, smokers are lightning-rods for the wrath of the majority. Most of us feel the need to be fighting for the right, thus smokers in the UC system bear the brunt of our moralistic inclinations. We give ourselves the power to fight smokers in their own interest, to save their lives, and that entails a thrill.
But ours is not a friendly world for the smoker, and UC officials have just made sure that no one forgets that. Smokers living in the dorms or with long blocks of class are given the unenviable choice of either breaking the law or snapping their fingers and magically forgetting that they are addicted to tobacco products.
Look, I don’t smoke and frankly I enjoy learning on a campus that doesn’t smell like a casino and, had the UC Regents stuck to their argument against second-hand smoke, then I wouldn’t object so much. However, following that argument, there would have been no reason to restrict chewing tobacco, for which the only negative effect on the bystander is the semi-gross slurping sound that its use creates. But, of course, chewing tobacco was restricted, along with e-cigarettes, snuff and every other form of unconventional nicotine that remains benign to the bystander.
Like just about all socio-political groups, smokers have among them a huge mix or people. But as far as these groups go, it seems to me that smokers are among the most sympathetic. All they are after is the right to use their tobacco or nicotine products in peace. Rather than accumulating privileges over the last century as many minority groups have been doing, they have found their privileges sharply reduced. Is this a reflection on a cultural movement away from tobacco and nicotine use? Probably. But that is not to say that the few who continue to use these products should be marginalized by their respective communities.
So long as there is a mutual respect between smokers and nonsmokers, there is no need for laws like those now instituted in the UC campuses. If the efforts of anti-smoking activism go too far, we may find ourselves with a controversy where previously none existed.
Ben Moss likes to stick up for the little guy.