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Igniting debate about potential smoking ban


There are certain colleges, including the University of Minnesota, that have banned smoking on campus. St. Olaf, in accordance with Minnesota law, prohibits smoking in all buildings, including residence halls. However, if a student does choose to smoke, “they must be at least 10 feet away from the entrance door of any building.” Those are the rules now, but what would happen if smoking was banned completely at St. Olaf?

When I think about this idea, I remember a conversation I had with a group of students from Indonesia. We were eating a meal in the Stav Hall and discussing how, if smoking were banned on campus, the new policy might target international students. This is an interesting thought, because people who have grown up in the U.S. have become accustomed to the stigma that surrounds smoking. This goes hand in hand with the federal policies that regulate smoking in the U.S.

As a nursing student, I understand the terrible effects smoking has on people’s health. However, I also come from a background where I am half Indonesian and have lived overseas for most of my life. I have been around many cultures in Asia and Europe where smoking is considered a cultural norm. In some countries, there are no regulations or warning signs on cigarette packages. In fact, having a smoke with people is just as casual and respected as getting a coffee with friends. The argument I am making here is that there are different cultural beliefs that may be at play here if St. Olaf considers banning smoking on campus.

In order to get more opinions on the smoking policy, I interviewed my Indonesian friend Omara Esteghlal ’21, who describes himself as “politely against” banning smoking at St. Olaf.

“I just think their rules are completely incendiary,” Esteghlal said.

In reference to how banning smoking might target international students, Esteghlal said, “with the smoking thing, it’s kind of weird because people have been smoking outside, so there’s a lot of segmented groups that are affiliated with smoking, mainly internationals.”

The U.S. cultural argument for not smoking is due to the health benefits. “Here in the U.S. you have to abide by the rules,” Omara continued. And we must consider the different cultural beliefs that separate the U.S. from other countries. “For example, as an Indonesian, [smoking] never mattered.”

When asked if banning smoking would be effective, he said, “it won’t stop anyone from smoking, I can guarantee you that … it’s just going to create problems.”

Indeed, when considering banning smoking on campus, St. Olaf must understand the cultural background of why some students smoke. I personally do not see smoking as a problem on campus, and I never see cigarettes littered on the ground.

Omara sums up the smoking issue at St. Olaf nicely: “Should we smoke or should we not smoke? It’s a personal option. If you do it, do so politely, do so where you don’t disturb anyone.”

In my opinion, this is an idea already practiced at St. Olaf, and a new “ban” on smoking may create unnecessary turmoil.

Laras Kettner ’21 is from Falls Church, Va. Her major is nursing.