Mad about smoking

by Eve Ahearn | 11/7/08 4:38am

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This advertisement was printed in The Dartmouth on Sept. 23, 1915

I walked down Mass Row, past the Gold Coast, Baker Library and the Fayerweathers, trying to find someone smoking a cigarette to interview for this article. I saw no one. Every time I passed somebody, I started to talk to him or her, only to see that the light was just a reflection from a cell phone; what seemed to be a motion toward the lips was merely nervous nail-biting. I thought this was college: Where are all the smokers?

In a Dartmouth health survey from 2008, 89.4 percent of students reported that they had never smoked cigarettes, or had not smoked in the past 30 days. This is slightly up from 2005 when the number was 86.6 percent.

Among students, smoking is no longer seen as just another unhealthy individual choice for a college student to make, but a reflection of one's character, even one's morality. When was the last time you heard anyone go up to someone playing pong and say, "Did you know that binge drinking is bad for your body?"

"I don't think that drinking alcohol has the same stigma with it that smoking does, but you're still killing yourself," smoker Jaimie Keith '09 said.

Smoking, however, produces secondary health effects, and for some students, the issue of second-hand smoke is an especially important one.

"For me [the issue of smoking] is really personal. I lost my mom three weeks before high school graduation to lung cancer, but she was a non-smoker. So her particular type of cancer was caused by second-hand smoke," Courtney Otto '09 said.

Otto has worked as an advocate for anti-smoking legislation in her home state of Kentucky and in New Hampshire. She is the New Hampshire coordinator of Ignite, which "empower[s] the youth of America to hold the tobacco industry accountable at every level by directing public officials to act responsibly," according to the organization's web site.

"You have to push for anti-tobacco legislation without coming across as anti-smoker. It's a personal decision, and I think that everyone in the movement recognizes that, but when second-hand smoke comes into it, everything changes," Otto said.

Of the students who do smoke, many declined to be interviewed or asked to remain anonymous. Although smoking cigarettes is perfectly legal, they were afraid that being a smoker is not something they want associated with their name on Google in case their future employees or parents searched for them.

At Dartmouth, with a campus culture centered on athletics and outdoor activities, smoking is especially uncommon. Because of this, student athletes who do smoke may feel the need to hide their habit.

"People assume athletes don't smoke. If I'm wearing my Dartmouth sports apparel, I don't smoke. I try really hard to make sure that no one from my team sees me," an anonymous '11 athlete said.

When I interviewed the anonymous athlete in Novack, she was on her way to a smoking break from studying. "Even right now when I came downstairs to do this interview, I brought my bag because I didn't want to bring a pack of cigarettes through the library."

Brian Bowden, the coordinator of Alcohol and Other Drug Programs at Dick's House, discussed the change in smoking culture: "Culture has shifted from it being a glamorous thing to do, to it being something people are embarrassed about. In the '80s and '90s people smoked wherever they wanted, and other people had to put up with it. Now it's the opposite."

"It always raises eyebrows, when you do see people smoking. I've had friends make comments about how sad it is to see people destroying their health. Most people just feel bad for the negative effects that people have to deal with," Otto said.

As attitudes towards smoking are changing, it would make sense that College policy would reflect that new outlook.. A hundred years ago, smoking was a central part of students' social lives. Speakers would come to "Smoke talks," such as one on March 21, 1902, where Congressman Samuel L. Powers came to speak at the College. Called "Smokers," these events were organized and paid for by the College itself.

Smoking was even allowed in classrooms, until 1975 when the Green Key Society called for a vote to ban it. Smokers were still allowed to light up in their rooms, provided that they lived in a designated smoking building, until the fall of 2006, when the last of these dorms -- Wheeler, South Massachusetts, Lord and Richardson -- became smoke-free, according to an article published in The Dartmouth on March 8, 2005.

Compared to Dartmouth's past, the College's current policies towards smoking may seem strict, but some smokers see the policies as fairly free. "In Japan you have to go to a specific place to smoke, but here, everywhere you can smoke. Here it's easy to smoke; in Japan its difficult," exchange student Osamu Asano '10 said.

As fewer and fewer students on campus smoke, will the policy change again? Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center became not only smoke-free, but also a tobacco-free campus on July 4, 2008. "A year and a half prior to going tobacco-free they changed their health benefits to support people to stop smoking," Dick's House physician and Consultant for Student Affairs, Planning, Evaluation and Research Ann Bracken said. "So they have a few current employees who are still smoking, and they can smoke in their cars, but that's really the only place they can smoke."

"Dartmouth should be a tobacco-free campus; a lot of universities are doing it," Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisor and Tobacco Cessation Intern Eben Clattenburg '09 said. Bracken is also a member of a tobacco task force, comprised by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop '37, employees of the College, smokers, Dick's House employees and others. "We encourage Dartmouth College to change the health benefits to encourage stopping smoking, and Dartmouth College was very responsive to those changes. [In the task force] there has been a lot of discussion as [to] how we can move to a tobacco-free campus," Bracken said.

Arguments for a tobacco-free Dartmouth College range from economic (smokers are more expensive to insure), to environmental (cigarette butts are the most common item littered on campus and each butt takes three to five years to biodegrade), to the most obvious of all, health reasons.

Although some other universities are tobacco-free, it is more common for smoking to be forbidden within a radius from dorm buildings. At Dartmouth, current Office of Residential Life policy states, "Smoking outside of a College Residence is permitted so long as the smoke does not affect residents inside the building. As a result, if you choose to smoke outside please smoke away from building entrances and windows." This policy might change in the future. "We're looking into clarifying the policy," Director of Undergraduate Housing Rachel Class-Giguere said. "We've had a few complaints over the years [about smokers outside of dorms], but this year we've had a number of them."

"I try to be careful when I'm smoking. I ask if it's okay, because it's not worth it to me to make people uncomfortable," smoker Emily Duke '11 said.

Privately owned Co-ed, Fraternity, and Sorority houses and society houses are able to create their own rules regarding tobacco use, which accounts for the great disparity among policies toward smoking in different basements.

People who see themselves as social smokers might only smoke in frat basements while they're drinking. "Most of the smoking happens in basements. Drinking does help the smoking vibe," Tiger Rahman '09 said.

"Being an actual smoker and being out at night is frustrating because everyone starts smoking and wants to bum cigarettes off of you," Duke said.

For those who do smoke at Dartmouth, they may quit in the future. According to the Center of Disease Control's 2000 survey, 70 percent of adult smokers report that they want to quit completely. As college students, many cite a desire to quit after graduation.

"Everyone has individual reasons for wanting to quit. Some are: it's a disgusting habit, it smells bad, you have to go out in the cold. [There's] a lot of social pressure, particularly because now it's seen as unattractive and obviously [unhealthy]," Clattenburg said.

For people who have Dartmouth College health insurance, smoking cessation products are covered once they have a meeting with a physician. During the Great American Smokeout, to be held at Dartmouth later this month, smokers who are considering quitting will be given information and encouraged to set a date.

Still, not every smoker at Dartmouth wants to quit. "I have passive plans [to quit] after I graduate from here," said Keith. "But honestly, until something actually forces me to quit, I probably won't. Maybe if I can't afford cigarettes where I'm living, or if I'm living with children or someone else I am living with doesn't want me to smoke. Or if I were pregnant."