Widgets Magazine


Stanford Gets an F

What poisonous product can you buy at Stanford Marketplace and the Valero on campus? A substance responsible for one in five deaths in the world? A product that will kill over half its users?


It’s 2013, and Stanford is the only university in Santa Clara County that continues to allow the sale of tobacco on campus. For this practice, the Santa Clara Public Health Department gave Stanford an F in their report card on tobacco policy.

We were the only university to receive a failing grade.

At such a prominent institution, in a state that has led the nation in tobacco control policy, are we satisfied with failing our students and community? Is it worth the profits to Valero to continue the sale of a deadly product on campus? Is it in our best interests to support an industry that has thrived on the addiction of its customers and preyed on their ignorance? Absolutely not.

The hazards of cigarettes may be viewed as “old news, but tobacco-related diseases continue to be the leading cause of preventable death in America and the world. About 45 million Americans regularly smoke, and nearly half of these people will die from their habit.

Nor are we immune to the pitfalls of tobacco use here at Stanford. In 2012 the Office of Alcohol Policy surveyed Stanford students and found that the annual smoking prevalence is 20 percent. This percentage is half that of the national average, and the rate of students who have smoked recently is even lower. This bodes well for Stanford students, but can’t we lower it by limiting our own access to cigarettes?

Stanford is a modern campus at the forefront of innovation, yet we are being left behind with our failing grade. As of July 8, more than 1,100 American universities have enacted smoke-free campus policies: No smoking cigarettes indoors or anywhere outdoors. 800 of these universities have passed tobacco-free policies, banning the presence of any tobacco products. Can Stanford take the first step and ban their sale?

Berkeley will go tobacco-free on Jan. 1, 2014. UCLA was the first in the University of California system, going tobacco-free on April 22 of this year. University of Oregon went tobacco free Sept. 2012 with sponsorship from Nike. Can Stanford keep up?

Think smoking is an issue just for smokers? The air exhaled by a smoker and the side stream smoke released from a cigarette exposes those around him to 69 chemicals known to cause cancer. If a neighboring power plant were emitting toxins like these, would we be sitting by so passively? Even with the bans on smoking within 20 feet of buildings, secondhand smoke remains toxic to nonsmokers. The National Cancer Institute has found that there is no safe level of exposure. Personal freedoms extend as far as they don’t harm others; it does not seem that smoking qualifies.

Consider the intersection of social justice and tobacco. We loathe industries that commit human rights abuses, but what of industries that invite us to abuse ourselves? Yes, we can choose not to smoke. We have agency. But when so much misinformation on tobacco prevails, when even our choices are the products of covert advertising constructions like smoking in the movies and faux anti-tobacco pitches in schools by industry experts, why should we trust this industry with our money? With our health?

Consider the story of the face of Winston cigarettes, a male model named David Goerlitz. After a photoshoot, he asked Winston executives if he could keep some of the cigarettes used in the shoot. They told him to take them all. Perplexed, he asked them if they smoked. One answered: “Are you kidding? We reserve that right for the poor, the young, the black and the stupid.”

“The young” are the “replacement smokers,” the “learners,” the under-20 demographic of first-time smokers who are referred to so often in industry documents. That’s us. We replace the older smokers who are dying. Does that also make us “the stupid”? We can’t allow an industry that targets us with contempt and misinformation to continue to manipulate us. We can do better.

Some may argue against me, saying that smoking is a personal freedom, a mode of expression. The tobacco industry has marketed smoking as a form of free speech since the late 1980s. We should be able to think outside their rhetoric, to define ourselves rather than allowing their marketing to twist our thinking.

In the face of overwhelming evidence of the hazards of smoking and the misconduct of the industry, why do we continue to defend tobacco? Why would we continue to allow its sale on our campus? For convenience? Easy purchase is not a right, and it carries sinister implications: By allowing the sale of cigarettes on campus, Stanford tacitly endorses the tobacco industry.

Consider your own experience. How many smokers do you know who are proud of that aspect of their identity? Especially older smokers. Smoking has become a part of their identity they can’t escape even though they regret ever starting. Do we want that for ourselves? Do we want this part of our free expression to become a ball and chain?

As for banning the sale of cigarettes, I turn to Stanford professor Robert Proctor: “Smokers should have the right to smoke, but the product is too dangerous to sell.” How many other products have such a dismal history as cigarettes? How many diseases have such a high mortality rate?

From 1965 to 2009, smoking declined by 50 percent, with a small peak around the turn of the millennium. We can keep going. We can kick the deadliest human invention in history off our campus. The Stanford School of Medicine has already successfully done so. Let’s follow their lead. Let’s make smoke-free environments to help smokers quit. Let’s remove the cues to use. Make Stanford a better place. Make it a place that doesn’t sell cigarettes.


– Contact Blake Montgomery ‘14 at montyb14@stanford.edu.

  • Anon

    God forbid they treat us like adults able to make our own decisions

  • Disagree

    Part of becoming an adult is being able to make decisions given options, some “good” and some “bad.” Avoiding temptations, bad habits, without interference. As I have said before, the safest society is one in which everyone is locked in a padded jail cell. Or as Jefferson said, the person who is willing to sacrifice his freedom for his safety deserves neither.

    Frankly I think they should cell cigarettes and alcohol at the Tressider Express. How can Stanford expect to grow the best minds of its generation when it treats its students like children?

  • first do no harm

    Anon, Disagree: I think the main driver of smoking bans on campuses is the harm that comes from second-hand smoke. I’m pretty sure it has very little to do with treating or not treating people like children.

  • Disagree with Disagree

    Firstly, the exact quote is They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety” and it is by Benjamin Franklin. The key to that quote, is “essential liberty”.

    Essential liberties encompass the freedom of speech, freedom of life, and freedom of property (among others conveniently labeled “The Bill of Rights”). Smoking does not qualify for the same reason that heroin does not qualify, and to a lesser extent, for the same reason that not wearing a seat-belt does not qualify. These actions all have ramifications that go beyond the actor. In the case of drugs, there are costs for regulating, for preventing, and for researching the damages caused by the drugs and the cures for damages. Wearing a seat-belt, similarly, lowers health-care costs as well as all costs associated with the investigation of a death resulting from an auto accident (as opposed to a wreck which only requires hospitalization or less).

    The main issue, and the point of the article, was that it is the right of everyone who does not smoke to breathe air free and clear of cigarette smoke, and that is an “essential liberty”, as opposed to smoking, which is a choice.

  • Mike

    Don’t ban sale of cigarettes, but ban smoking on campus. The action of buying cigarettes harms no one, but smoking on campus does lead to secondhand smoke which harms other people. If someone wants to buy cigarettes on campus and smoke them outside of campus, their health problems are their own business. But if you smoke in the presence of other students, then you are harming others and should be stopped by the law.

  • Guest

    “This bodes well for Stanford students, but can’t we lower it by limiting our own access to cigarettes?”


    You see smoke (no pun intended), but you can’t seem to find the fire… other than an ugly “F” assigned by… who again?

  • Poppy

    Since cigarettes are legal, what is the problem?.

  • Chris

    The rule of Stanford is that a person has to be a certain distance away from any buildings. I call bullshit if you actually think that my standing fifty feet away from a building in the open air is hurting anyone with second-hand smoke. Make practical arguments.

  • Chris

    As commented above, second hand smoke is not an issue, as you have to be fifty feet away from any building. The second-hand smoke argument is invalid.

  • Disagree (again)

    Disagree with disagree: your reading skills are lacking– the “thesis” of the column was that smoking is dangerous to the smoker, and since Stanford students are subject to manipulation by the evil cigarette companies, Stanford should counteract this force with a cigarette ban, pressuring smokers to quit and non-smokers to stay that way.

    Secondhand smoke was the subject of 1 paragraph out of a total of 18.

  • Disagree (again)

    Okay, I won’t argue with you there, but that’s not the primary argument the author made. Secondhand smoke was mentioned in one out of eighteen paragraphs.

  • TheCardinalRules

    Politically motivated Santa Clara County Health Dept is the one who should get an F

  • Candid One

    “Politically motivated” derives from “people motivated”. California has the lowest percentage of smokers in the nation (Amer. Lung Assn.). California also is one of the most restrictive states for smoking regulations. Welcome to California. Welcome to reality, political and legislative.

  • Candid One

    Adults have proven, over the millennia, that they don’t consistently behave maturely. Government is a partial dialectic in that regard; it variously protects adults from each other.

  • dingus

    “deadliest human invention in history” is this guy serious? ever heard of guns or knives or the atomic bomb? I laughed throughout this whole article but that part was the funniest by far.

  • Rod Gillis

    this doucher probably went and smoked a bowl after writing this.

  • Jonathan

    I think once you hit college, you should be responsible for your own decisions. If Stanford wants to eliminate cigarettes here to make a political statement against tobacco companies, then sure, I will abide by that. But for the Santa Clara Public Health Department to give us an F, it appears to me that the SCPHD has become an activist organization rather than one that is solely focused on executing on existing county health laws, as it is supposed to. I think the SCPHD deserves an F for this report.

  • Anon

    “The National Cancer Institute has found that there is no safe level of exposure.”