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Stopping smokeless statism

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JANUARY 23, 2012

I am a sanctimonious non-smoker. I have never smoked a cigarette in my life, nor do I ever intend to. I find smoking downright disgusting and cannot comprehend how any rational person would take up the habit. Much to the chagrin of my smoking acquaintances, I make my opinion of lung hacking very public too. I’ve confronted several of my closest companions about their unhealthy habit; I purposefully migrate away from fuming friends at parties; I’ve even vowed to never kiss a smoker again after one un-tasty experience. I guess you can call me a nicotine buzz killer.

But despite my fervent anti-smoking attitude, I would never dare to snatch a cigarette out of some unexpecting soul’s mouth in a fit of self-righteousness. While I may detest the unhealthy habit, I understand that it would be grossly inappropriate to enforce my values upon others. Live and let live is my motto, and if someone chooses to “live” by hastening his or her march to the grave, then so be it.

Unfortunately, our university’s busybody bureaucrats haven’t learned this rule of common courtesy. Just earlier this month, UC President Mark Yudof mandated that all 10 campuses of our university ban tobacco consumption completely by 2014. This prohibition will make smoking almost de facto illegal in the City of Berkeley considering that our supposedly socially tolerant township already has some of the toughest restrictions in the country. Don’t believe me? Let’s run through a thought exercise.

Imagine that you are a stressed college student stepping out of the library for a well deserved smoke break (because Lord knows Berkeley has none of those!). Now that smoking is banned, you, as a good citizen, decide to step off campus property on the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph to take a drag. But wait! Smoking is prohibited within 25 feet of public buildings. Since you’re too close to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union Building to legally light up, you decide to take a hike down Telegraph Avenue. At last your break awaits you, right?

Wrong! Smoking is banned in commercial zones, so you’ll have to trek further down Telegraph to get your fix. But, where to go? You start brainstorming possible locations. The residential unit courtyards are out of play since they’re campus property. So is People’s Park for the same reason. Willard Park won’t work either since smoking in parks is prohibited as well. Of course, you can’t go onto anybody’s yard since it’s private property. Perhaps you could smoke in the middle of some residential street, but then you’d be blocking traffic — a different offense. Defeated, you decide to smoke in the privacy of your own apartment, where you courteously expose your roommate to secondhand health risks.

Of course, most smokers won’t be so legally compliant considering the enormous effort needed to do so. Instead, most will likely break the law, which will be easy to do considering the campus has little funds for enforcement of this wide-sweeping ban. Look out for a record number of students smoking in bathrooms, dorm rooms and tampering with detectors. In fact, there already is plenty of the latter occurring in the dormitories because of marijuana consumption. I remember during my freshman residency at Unit 3’s Beverly Cleary Hall, for example, the fire alarm went off approximately 10 times during the spring semester because some students couldn’t get enough of the ganja. Stay tuned for much more of these unintended consequences to come. Perhaps after being evacuated from your building at 11 p.m., like I was three years ago, you might decide that freedom isn’t such a bad alternative.

Worst of all, this smoking ban is simply the latest mark on a long timeline of Berkeley meddlers socially engineering students’ lives. Not only will bottled water cease to be sold on campus soon because of last year’s ban, it looks as if a citywide prohibition on plastic bags is eminent as well. Note that the current ban is not just limited to smoking but includes other products like chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes that lack negative externalities. That’s right, fellow Berkeleyans, the administration doesn’t just want to prevent you from harming other students’ bodies — they want to control yours.

So, I call on my fellow students — smokers and non-smokers alike — to stand up to this atrocious intrusion on our personal freedom. An unenforceable law like this broad tobacco ban should be no law at all. We as taxpayers, students and human beings should have the freedom to live our lives peacefully without some nanny state do-gooders breathing down our necks.

But, if all else fails, there’s always that hidden spot behind Stephens Hall to light up.

Contact Casey Given at 


JANUARY 23, 2012