Two Sides of the Coin: The Smoking Ban


Smoking on campus is a non-issue.  In my four years at McGill, I don’t think I’ve ever inhaled a single puff of smoke against my will.  A ban only inconveniences those who do smoke, and makes no difference for those who don’t.  This is the simplest and strongest reason I oppose the campus-wide smoking ban.

However, there is also a second reason I don’t support it, and it has nothing to do with your individual or bodily right to smoke.  Rather, I see this smoking ban as fitting into a broader pattern of students demanding protection from all potential harms.

When you leave the Roddick gates, do you require Montrealers to stamp out their cigarettes before passing you on the sidewalk? No, and yet you survive.

The question then becomes: should campus be any different?

If you are part of the camp of students who believe university campuses should serve as bastions of safe space, then perhaps you have no problem drawing this line.  However, if the consolidation of a bubble around campus disturbs you, then I urge you to reconsider the implications of a campus-wide smoking ban.

You might be thinking, is this guy really trying to draw a connection between the growing hostility towards free speech on university campuses and a proposed ban on smoking? Yes, yes I am.  In fact, I do not see much of a difference between banning smoking on campus and banning lectures or events that some students on the radical left might find particularly offensive.  Both activities, I presume, have the ability to cause harm.

The bottom-line is: you do not have the right to be protected from all potential harms, especially when it is easily within your power to avoid them.

Therefore, if McGill follows through with this ban, I demand they also prohibit chairs (since a sedentary lifestyle is more harmful than smoking), and also opinions that offend me.


McGill is a great place to start smoking. Montreal is a hip, grungy city and it is all too inviting to kids from Vancouver (where smoking is taboo). All the more, when you arrive at Rez knowing nobody, becoming a social smoker is another enticing prospect. That turns into having a few when you’re out, but never (or almost never) normally. Then when final exams come your friend gets up to go outside for a smoke break and you decide you need one too. And like that, you are one of us.

I smoke; my family hates it. I am often shooed out of my sister’s room because I “reek” and am “giving her a headache.” My dad rolls the window down in the car if I’ve had a cigarette. My brother and my mom both fancy jokes about buying death or any of the other grim idioms around smoking.

The fact of the matter is that for all the haranguing I endure, I smoke less when I’m home. My family does not bow to accommodate my smoking: everyone lives in the house equally and as such we are all entitled to be comfortable in it. The inconvenience I endure is out of respect for them, and out of recognition that what I’m doing is, scientifically and undeniably, harmful to those around me.

The smoking ban is much the same. I don’t expect other people on campus to inhale my cancer because I can’t walk a block. Really, McGill’s campus is one with no checks on stress-induced indulgences. What exists to make smoking uninviting? That smoke break you’re accompanying your friend on might not be so inviting it if it meant walking to the edge of campus (let alone in winter).

As a smoker who has respected the terrace ban, I have found that from the time I leave McClennan to the time I reach the Redpath Museum I have forgotten about lighting up. It isn’t that smokers should see this is as probation of their smoking, though it is certainly an inconvenience – but it is one that will help deter students from becoming smokers. However, the argument that it creates undue stress on those who “need” to smoke is preposterous. I need to smoke, but I can take a walk. Truth is, I don’t much like the idea that I’m creating a space that creates smokers.

1 Comment

  • McGill Student says:

    I found this a very interesting piece. I personally would lean closer to the argument Ben B. lays out. It’s no question smoking can have a very detrimental effect on one’s health. I am happy to see McGill is taking a proactive approach to second-hand smoking.

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