Every person reading this editorial has probably seen me around campus. I have short dark hair, am usually sitting outside on the Quad (rain or shine) with a book, and almost always have a cigarette in my hand. If I am not in class or the cafeteria, I am somewhere on the Quad smoking.
Over my four years at Mercer I have developed favorite spots. I know which benches are most comfortable, I know where there are overhangs so I can smoke in the rain, and I have made an art of being able to hold a book, pen and cigarette all at the same time. In 2007, when I started at Mercer, I was a lone landmark on a usually empty Quad.
I rarely had company at my between class smokes and if someone offered to borrow my lighter it was more likely to be for a candle than a cigarette. However, in the last two years I have noticed a surprising jump in the amount of company I have in the smoker’s corner.
Smokers are by nature social creatures. Most of us pick up the habit as a way to fit in, to something to do with our hands or as a method of passing time, and because of the many necessities to the habit we often make friends by asking for lighters, bumming smokes or just striking up conversations with fellow smokers.
I met my fiancé by asking him for a light outside a nightclub despite the one that was burning a hole in my pocket. I have, and I hope my friends would agree, always made an effort to be a respectful smoker. I am aware that my habit is not one that the world enjoys and I generally ask before I light up in large crowds.
Despite my attempts, I am well aware that no smoke is healthy smoke and that by lighting up around my friends I put their own health in jeopardy along with my own. There is even a running joke that I keep friends by making sure that they are so addicted to my secondhand smoke they can’t help but want to be around me, but really it’s not funny.
Smoking is a dangerous habit and as I finish my college career I have become more and more aware that every time I lift a cigarette to my mouth I am taking years off my own life, not the mention the harm I could be doing to those around me. I have become more and more concerned by the number of young smokers I see on campus and when I go out downtown I have been known to refuse to give cigarettes to social smokers for fear that I will help them develop a regular habit that they will regret.
In the spirit of my own goals of quitting by graduation and in an effort to at least make more respectful smokers if not ex-smokers out of the rest of the campus, I am proposing that the Mercer community take a more active stance on the issue of tobacco. Currently there are few resources available to student smokers and the regulations about smoking listed in the student handbook are never enforced.
First, I suggest that the “no smoking within fifteen feet of any doorway” rule be enforced or at least obeyed more often by the smokers of Mercer. I know that when it rains and the benches are scarce it’s hard to want to stand out in the open, but it is not just our own health that we are affecting.
Smoking is a personal decision and no one is quicker to defend the choice of what is essentially slow suicide faster than myself, but there is no excuse for forcing another student to walk through a cloud while on his or her way to class. The fifteen-foot rule is not unreasonable but it is hard to judge.
I will admit that I have no idea what fifteen feet really looks like and so to help I intend, with the help of some friends, to draw chalk lines fifteen feet from the doors of all the buildings on the Quad. No one is going to force you to stand behind the line, but I would hope that after the distance has been set the smoking students of Mercer would not be so unkind as to continue their bad habits.
The second program I propose to make Mercer a more proactive campus in the fight against tobacco is the institution of a Tobacco Awareness Month. With the help of AWARE, CAPS and Health Services, this April will be a month of information and support. I have been smoking for six years and have tried to quit several times.
I know how hard the first step can be, especially when every non-smoker you know doesn’t seem to understand what an addiction the habit really is. There is an endless list of side effects that come from nicotine deprivation, some mild and some that can create physical problems so severe medical attention is required.
Quitting smoking is not easy and it is a personal decision on when to try. I, however, would argue that kicking the habit sooner rather than later is always a good idea, and during the month of April there will be multiple programs available to campus smokers to give them the support and guidance they need. Even if you are not sure you’re ready to quit, information and support will be available throughout the month.
I am not advocating a tobacco-free campus, nor am I attempting to force anyone into a life change that they are not ready for. Studies have shown that efforts to quit that are inspired for the wrong reasons not only have a lower success rate but often lead to a lack of confidence that can destroy future attempts.
I am only asking that Mercer smokers make an effort to be more aware of the non-smokers around them and offering support and help to those who are ready to make a change. I will be making my first serious effort to quit in two years this April and I hope that some of you join me.
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