By Grace Mark
The familiar site of green umbrellas is no longer part of on-campus life at Lewis & Clark. As of this academic year, Designated Smoking Areas (DSAs) no longer exist on campus. Signs alerting that the campus is now smoke-, tobacco- and vape-free are posted on doors to every campus building. LC students have had mixed responses to the change in campus culture. I welcome this shift in campus living.
I smoked cigarettes every day my first year at LC. It was never just a nicotine addiction for me – habits breed habits. In addition to filling my lungs with toxins, I was filling the space between classes and sleep with passive interactions at the Copeland DSA. Smoking had an easily accessible social reward – it became a group activity, resulting in that in-group benefit so many of us depend on in a new environment.
The only time I socialized was when I had a cigarette in my hand. The rest of the time, I isolated myself. It was more comfortable to confine my life to a series of unhealthy habits.
But college is naturally uncomfortable at first. Depending on an unhealthy habit for its ease does not contribute to growth. In fact, it often worsens the problems the habit is produced from. Smoking calmed my nerves, yet worsened my anxiety. For those of us who have self-medicated with smoking, the policy change is a reminder to address our mental health with better tactics.
My LC experience has become so much richer without poor habits to fall back on. Instead of killing time at the DSA, I spend my time being productive, actively engaging with people and getting off campus regularly. I am happy my crutch is gone, and I want other students to benefit from actively participating in their own lives.
It is so easy to ignore the facts about nicotine because they are so familiar; we desensitize ourselves to serious health concerns. But nicotine is one of the most addictive substances, with the highest annual death rate by far. On top of that, we are at the most vulnerable age for nicotine addiction. People who quit smoking before the age of 30 almost completely eliminate the increased risk of mortality due to diseases brought on by smoking and tobacco use.
It is important to note that the timing of this policy change is primarily due to developments in Oregon state law. Oregon increased the age for purchasing and possession of tobacco from 18 to 21; this law went into effect Jan. 1, 2018. Allowing students to smoke on campus means condoning illegal actions, which is not something the school can afford to do if it wants to continue to receive funding. Of course, promoting health and wellness also improves LC’s public image.
Why should the school promote a culture that revolves around something that is bad for its students? What message would that send about what LC thinks of students’ wellbeing? I personally am not interested in being somewhere that promotes the continuation of my unhealthy habits.
Once those of us who lived in the DSA era have graduated and moved on, on-campus attitudes about smoking will hopefully have shifted towards promotion of student health, and rainy days under green umbrellas will be a distant memory.