St. Olaf’s new smoking policy: Who it targets, and why it needs to go

Part of the agreement to follow rules on campus is based on the idea that the rules should have clear purpose and be grounded in reason. When it comes to the new smoking policy, the College plans to be tobacco-free beginning Sept. 1, 2021. Smoking or tobacco use will not be allowed anywhere on the St. Olaf campus.

According to an email from President David Anderson ’74, the smoking ban is backed with the main argument, “Substantial research demonstrates the damaging effects of tobacco on users and persons who experience second-hand smoke as a result of that use.” We don’t dispute that smoking can have negative effects on an individual’s health and that one’s choice to smoke can inadvertently hurt others. However, this policy will have negative consequences and outcomes that must be considered.

College students are adults with newly found freedom of choice. At this age, it is essential that students are able to exercise that freedom. By restricting the right to smoke, the College creates an unrealistic environment, preventing us from learning how to navigate smoking in our lives outside of campus. Smoking is an activity that occurs in public spaces globally, and by sheltering us from it our perception of the world is stunted.

Jeremias Thiel ’23, an international student, points out that “especially among international students, it is very important to our culture to smoke. It is very normal. This school judges that and even stigmatizes it.” He also made sure to mention that, as a regular smoker under the current policy, he always smokes away from other people and not indoors on campus.

Not only will the new smoking policy stunt our cultural and social perceptions of the world, the consequences of this ban on public health could be highly negative. Under the new restrictions, students who do not want to quit smoking may redirect their smoking habits indoors in order to continue their consumption of nicotine products.

Smoking inside would damage the campus spaces, introduce greater risk of second hand smoke exposure and create a more underground environment around the consumption of these products. Students may also redirect their smoking habits off campus. This makes the point of this ban in many ways moot, and possibly exposes the Northfield community as a whole to a hazard.

This change surely had positive intentions for student health in mind, but those who wrote this policy are addressing a problem which does not exist. There are dozens of issues consistently being brought up by students — from the lack of rest time for students this semester to the school’s inhospitality to BIPOC students. There are greater issues affecting students everyday and creating a cultural environment on campus that needs to be changed, but further restricting students personal freedoms is not a way to help.

This policy reads as tone-deaf, dismissive and detrimental.

Hannah Goldner Niederman ’23 is from Skokie, IL.

Her majors are political science and women & gender studies.

Teague Lars Peterson-McGuire ’23 is from Oconomowoc, WI.

His majors are film and media studies.