Student group lights up discussion on tobacco ban
Debate over Washington University’s upcoming tobacco ban heated up last week during the first Controversy N’ Coffee of the school year
The discussion, which drew enough students to fill the conference room in the Danforth University Center, featured Peter Benson, assistant professor of anthropology; Stephen LeFrak, pulmonologist and professor in the School of Medicine; and Doug Luke, professor in the Brown School of Social Work. The discussion was titled “Jumping on the ‘Ban’ Wagon: A Panel Discussion on Smoking Bans.”
Carson Smith, a University alumnus who works for the Center of Tobacco Policy Research with the Brown School, moderated the first part of the discussion. Following this portion of the discussion, the panel addressed specific student questions.
According to LeFrak, diseases associated with secondhand smoke are most often seen among those who work in the hospitality industry, such as waitresses and bartenders.
LeFrak said he believes the implementation of the tobacco ban probably will not prevent any chronic illnesses among University students.
“In terms of thinking about cardiovascular disease and cancer—particularly lung cancer—[contracting a disease from secondhand smoke] requires long exposures at high doses for long periods of time,” LeFrak said.
Benson shared his view that the University has other health concerns in mind, too, in enacting the ban.
“Secondhand smoke harms others, but the federal government has classified nicotine dependence as a disorder in its own right,” Benson said. “Wash. U. may therefore be justified in trying to create conditions to limit smoking.”
Studies consistently show that smoking bans lead to a 30 percent reduction in smoking rates in a community, according to Benson.
“Smoke-free legislation is one of the best ways to bring about that kind of dramatic result in people who stop smoking,” he said.
Benson argued that even though the University is an institution with diverse students who make different choices, the ability to smoke on campus is not a necessary component of a college atmosphere.
“While the rule may seem to betray the image of the college campus as a place where social norms can be challenged, it is not evident that tobacco use needs to be a part of an open-minded intellectual and social environment,” he said.
Students attending Controversy N’ Coffee praised the event for what it had to offer.
“The smoking ban is a great topic to discuss. All the professors were really wonderful speakers and had really great opinions,” sophomore Greg Schwartz said. “I thought it was a great experience.”
While the tobacco ban discussion was the first Controversy N’ Coffee event this year, the student group behind the event has been around for almost a year and a half.
Controversy N’ Coffee coordinator Allison Pearson, a junior, said the discussions really took off at the beginning of last year.
“We went to the activities fair last fall and just said, ‘Hey, we’ll give it a shot [and] see if anyone’s interested in joining us,’” Pearson said. “We were a brand new group. No one had ever heard of us.”
The group seeks to generate discussions between students, faculty and staff on various topics of interest. In the past, Controversy N’ Coffee has hosted talks about educational inequality, the national drinking age and the state of the economy.
For last spring’s discussion on gay marriage, around 130 students showed up.
Although the group is still relatively new to campus, it is attracting a larger crowd with each discussion.
“Our group is growing, our events are growing, and we’re getting better at what we do,” Pearson said.