Mills College is known for its progressive and liberal values and practices. On top of that, the College prides itself in its efforts to be eco-friendly. Everywhere you look, you see compost bins, solar powered charging stations, signs about water and energy conservation, and vegan friendly food options. Unfortunately, there is something else you will surprisingly see — something that has been known for decades to be harmful to humans and the earth — that is cigarette smoking. Students, faculty and staff alike are all seen smoking around campus every day, often in designated areas with ashtrays provided.
Many colleges have decided to go tobacco-free, including nearby schools such as UC Berkeley, and schools as far away as Kent State University in Ohio. This is not shocking, as it has been known for decades that smoking causes cancer and is harmful to the environment. How can a school as progressive and earth-friendly as Mills be so far behind in this way? To be more blunt (no pun intended), why hasn’t Mills banned smoking yet?
To be clear, this article is not about marijuana usage. Marijuana, although legal in the state of California, is not permitted on campus at Mills in any form, as the College is federally funded and must obey federal marijuana regulations and laws. Like any rule, this one is sometimes broken, but controls marijuana usage overall and people on campus are aware that consequences exist — unlike cigarette smoking, in which there are no consequences, other than ones related to human bodies and the earth.
Smoking cigarettes is outdated. According to an article in The Guardian written by Alok Jha in 2005 about the history of the link between cancer and cigarettes, their dangers have been well known since around the 1960’s. That is nearly sixty years ago. To make a comparison, veganism has become prevalent in American diets since around 2010, according to an article from CBS. Less than a decade later, in 2018, Mills is working to provide vegan-friendly food options and to make accommodations for those on a vegan diet, labelling all food as vegan or not. Why is the College so far behind when it comes to smoking?
As I mentioned, many colleges have already made the decision to go tobacco- and smoke-free. A good example is Kent State University, a large, unassuming college in a small Ohio town with mostly middle-class residents and students. According to their website, the decision began to be enforced on July 1, 2017. On the school’s website, there are links to resources for quitting smoking for both students and employees. There is also a link to information on the policy, which explains that the decision was made because tobacco usage “remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States,” and was also implemented to create a safer and cleaner environment for everyone, including non-smokers. In regards to its enforcement, KSU explains that their goal is to “achieve maximum voluntary compliance through communication about the smoke-free, tobacco-free policy” and that the policy is not meant to be enforced “punitively” — meaning the goal is not to punish people, but rather to change attitudes and work to create an environment where tobacco usage goes down. The site explain that compliance will “likely happen with a cultural shift over time.”
I spoke to a friend, Ben O’Daniel, who is a student at Kent State. As a cancer survivor, Ben strongly believes in the banning of cigarettes and is in favor of his school’s policy. O’Daniel said that the policy helps to create a cleaner and healthier environment, just as the school had hoped when they created it. A similar policy would be very easy to implement at Mills. For the sake of the health of students, faculty, staff and everyone else on campus, it is time to ban smoking and provide information and resources on quitting. Although the College regulates smoking through designated areas and by requiring smoking to happen certain distances away from buildings, the dangers are impossible to avoid. Even those who do not smoke are forced to inhale toxic fumes via secondhand smoke if they happen to walk in certain areas. Like those of smoking, the dangers of secondhand smoke have been known for decades and it is unfair to allow anyone to live in an environment where it exists. On top of bodily harm, smoking is in no way friendly to the earth. Fumes are toxic, and the campus is littered with butts.
In conclusion, by allowing smoking to occur, Mills is creating an environment with a certain level of acceptance for this life-threatening habit, as well as an unclean and unsafe campus. By spending money to create designated areas with ashtrays, Mills is creating this environment. A ban on smoking is long overdue, and for a college as progressive as Mills, it is unacceptable for smoking to continue on campus. It is up to the College to solve this problem, and up to smokers on campus to help foster an environment that aligns with the views the school is so widely known for.