By Edward Ngai
The concern expressed by Mr. Bentley (“Letter to Stanford University on Tobacco Use Policies”, Oct. 1, 2015) is admirable. Perhaps he has not been on campus recently, having graduated more than thirty years ago, but the notion of students and academic facilities being “overwhelmed” and “engulfed” by tobacco is, well, all smoke and mirrors.
The reality is that Stanford has done a very good job of discouraging tobacco use while making it possible for smokers to enjoy a little head rush every once in awhile.
Much to the smoking community’s consternation, two years ago, both Tresidder Express and the on-campus Valero stopped selling cigarettes, making them impossible to purchase on campus. CVS, at nearby Town and Country, soon followed suit. But as a matter of public policy, no one could argue with the decision — having to traipse to the nearest Shell for my trusty Spirits surely cut down on the number I could consume. No one will argue this is a bad thing. But it is already incredibly difficult to buy and smoke cigarettes at Stanford. How much harder would Mr. Bentley like for it to be?
The use of tobacco indoors is decidedly taboo at Stanford, even in the most smoking-friendly co-ops. (I make no comment about the consumption of other carcinogens.) And the smokers I have come across are incredibly polite, even ashamed, while partaking in their hobby. Where else do smokers stand downwind from their friends, or meticulously put cigarette butts into their pockets? Besides, I have had many more friends hide or steal my cigarettes (a naive attempt to get me to quit) than ask for a puff. Provost Etchemendy is right: tobacco smoke is almost a non-existent problem on campus.
If the University should ban smoking for the purpose of producing students of good physical health, it should also ban drinking for the untold harm it does to our health and relationships. Might we also require students to reach a certain number of hours of exercise, or hours of sleep? Was this kind of coddling really what Leland and Jane Stanford intended?
It should be, and is, the right of those who prefer a smoke-free environment to live in one. But it should also be the right of a stressed-out student to seek relief in a cancer stick or two. I have surely been critical of Stanford administrators in the past — my previous writing in these pages is testament to this. But I cannot criticize the Provost’s policies on tobacco: They have successfully discouraged consumption while leaving students freedom for its use. This comes from somebody who has often cursed these policies as I stumble my way to the nearest off-campus gas station in the middle of the night.
Since I graduated, it has only become more obvious how remarkable of a place Stanford is. In large part, this has to do with the complete freedom with which we are entrusted: die luft der freiheit weht.
Occasionally, those winds will carry with them something that smells a little funny. But that’s what freedom’s all about. Kids, by definition, will do dumb things. Smoking cigarettes is but one of them.
Ed Ngai ’15
Edward Ngai ’15 was president and editor-in-chief of The Stanford Daily for Volume 244.