New study calls smokers rights into question

While growing up, many of us heard from our teachers, our parents and our doctors about the dangers of smoking. When the people around us felt they had thoroughly drilled the “no smoking” message into our heads, advertisements on television took over. I am referring to the rather terrifying ads in which smokers tell stories about how cigarettes ruined their lives. Those advertisements make you not want to smoke as much as the Sarah McLachlan ads make you wish you could adopt all the homeless dogs in the world.

Society also taught us about the dangers of inhaling secondhand smoke from the people around us. This knowledge resulted in a huge cultural leap from our parents’ generation, when many doctors examined children while smoking. Just imagine someone putting a stethoscope up to your chest and asking you to breathe in and out while they take a drag from a cigarette. Now, research is illuminating the dangers of thirdhand smoke, which is inhaled while interacting with the surface residue where people have recently smoked.

Dr. Lowell Dale, Medical Director of Mayo Clinic Tobacco, provides a definition of thirdhand smoke and why it is such a threat. She writes, “thirdhand smoke is generally considered to be residual nicotine and other chemicals left on a variety of indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke. This residue is thought to react with common indoor pollutants to create a toxic mix. This toxic mix of thirdhand smoke contains cancer-causing substances, posing a potential health hazard to nonsmokers who are exposed to it, especially children.”

While many believe that people have the right to smoke, have enough medical studies been released in the past few years that the government might be prompted to take further measures in limiting smokers’ rights? I decided to see what fellow college students thought about smokers’ rights and the effect smoking has on those who don’t consent to being exposed.

Erin Knadler ’15: “So I kind of agree with the doctors and politicians that have started banning smoking inside places. It’s a little absurd to ban it in parks or on the street because realistically the smoke won’t harm you as much there because it has somewhere to go.”

Sam Macomber, a sophomore at Dartmouth College, has similar ideas: “I think it’s OK to restrict or eliminate smoking indoors or on private property. For example, the ban on smoking in New Hampshire restaurants is wonderful. It is not, however, okay to regulate smoking in public spaces such as parks.”

Andrea Dover ’14 had animals’ interests in mind when asked about thirdhand smoke: “I feel bad for pets that end up jumping onto those surfaces,” she said.

Julie Anne Franzel ’16, used humor to make a solid point about smoking around others: “I think that smoking within ten feet of people is equivalent to making everyone within ten feet of you eat two of your ten chicken Mcnuggets. Not everyone wants that.”

Negative legislation for the tobacco companies could be the nail in their coffin. Since the early 1990s, the deflation of tobacco companies’ ‘family friendly’ image has caused massive corporations, like NABISCO, to be broken apart and sold into pieces. In 2003, after the Philip Morris Company spent millions on branding and self-promotion, the corporation realized they could never be successful under such a tainted name and were forced to rename; this is a risky move in the business world and is often only done as a last resort.

Chemicals, including nicotine, cyanide, radioactive polonium-210, lead, arsenic, butane and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have been found on surfaces after someone has been smoking in the room. Personally, I find this fact terrifying. Someone can make the decision, to a certain extent, to stay away from secondhand smoke, but one can’t consent or control being around the chemical residue from past smokers.

Our health and well-being should not be controlled by others. It is our decision to eat salad or cake for dinner. It is our choice to work out in Skoglund instead of lying in bed all day. Just like smokers say it is their right to smoke, the same could be said for non-smokers: It is our right not to be affected by the chemicals from someone else’s choice to smoke.

Jocelyn Sarvady ’15 sarvady@stolaf.edu is from Atlanta, Ga. She majors in American studies.

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Student journalism is a very important platform for opinions