A few weeks ago, the Concordy ran an opinion piece which argued against Union’s soon to be implemented campus wide smoking ban.
The author took the opinion that Union’s ban on smoking was hypocritical given the prevalence of unhealthy food options available to students on campus.
While there is something to be said for this argument, the health risks from smoking versus those caused by eating junk food are very different.
Even though the consumption of food, both of the healthy and unhealthy variety, is widespread across campus (and hopefully, the world), the consumption of tobacco products and smoke from its many sources is not.
Simply put, it’s hard to compare the dangers of something everyone needs to consume to live, even the worst forms of that something, to a product which, at its best, is a smelly way to feel buzzed and, at its worst, is an unhealthy addiction which can have serious health risks over time.
While a comparison between the health risks created by smoking and eating unhealthy food is hard to support, there is a much more common drug that is heavily consumed on campus which arguably poses a greater health risk to students than smoking: alcohol.
A staple of the college experience for many people, alcohol consumption is much more widespread than the use of tobacco products on campus and across the country.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2014 59% of college students between the ages of 18 and 22 reported consuming alcohol in the past month, 37% of whom reported binge drinking, or drinking over five drinks in a sitting, in the same time period.
Comparatively, only 17% of people in the same age group were smokers in 2014, and only 8% of people with an undergraduate degree, a group most students attending Union expect to join, were smokers.
The health risks associated with alcohol consumption are also arguably more dangerous to college students than those associated with smoking.
While the use of tobacco products increases the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as various types of cancer in smokers, the health problems associated with smoking are caused by long term habitual use.
If a person were to sit around and smoke a whole pack in a day and stop smoking afterwards, while they might feel a little queasy, the impact on their long term health would be negligible.
Alcohol, on the other hand, can cause serious health problems for both habitual and infrequent users. Long term habitual alcohol use cause severe liver problems, brain damage, and, like long term tobacco use, increases the risk of developing mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver and breast cancers as well as cardiovascular diseases.
Unlike smoking, however, alcohol consumption can also have life threatening effects on infrequent users. One night of drinking more alcohol than your body is able to process can potentially lead to alcohol poisoning, coma and death.
Frankly, there is a higher chance of getting sick, being transported or actually dying from a long night playing flip cup a few too many times than from smoking while at college.
To be very clear, this is not an argument for a ban on alcohol use on campus, nor is it an argument supporting the use of tobacco products. Alcohol related deaths are fewer in number than those related to tobacco use.
Alcohol is also generally less addictive than tobacco products and, as a result, less likely to create a serious long term habit which can lead to serious health problems.
The point I’m trying to make is that the dangers of both drugs are clear and very real, but the value of a campus wide ban on either is not. Realistically, some people are going to use tobacco products, just like some people are going to use alcohol.
If the goal of the college is to encourage a healthy environment for Union students, their focus should not be on preventing the use of these substances on campus; rather, they should encourage responsible use and provide students with information and tools with which to make positive health changes on their own.
Providing students access to information about the dangers of smoking, smoking cessation products and counseling, which the Health Center and other organizations already do, is a positive and effective way for the College to help encourage healthier lifestyles for students.
If, however, the college views a ban on smoking as a necessary step in promoting the health of Union students because of the potential health risks associated with it, the clear and immediate dangers presented by alcohol consumption make its use on campus a much more serious threat to student health.
In 2014, alcohol impairment played a role in 31% of driving fatalities, 696,000 cases of assault, and 97,000 cases of sexual assault and rape for students between the ages of 18 and 24.
If the long term health risks presented by tobacco use make it worthy of a ban, the health problems created by alcohol consumption and the secondary effects alcohol consumption can have on the lives of other people make a ban on alcohol just as, if not more, necessary.