UK’s tobacco policy is ineffective, needs changing


Kernel Opinion SIG

Jacob Chatfield

UK’s tobacco ban is a smoke screen. It’s tobacco-free in name only; a short walk through campus can prove its falsity.

UK banned tobacco use on campus nearly a decade ago, but tobacco is as prevalent on campus as it has ever been; the policy is having the opposite effect of its expressed intent.

The ban was announced as an initiative to create a healthier campus for students and faculty. According to UK’s FAQ about its tobacco policy, it went into effect Nov. 19, 2009, and provoked tobacco users around the community to protest with their pipes outside the old student center. Truth be told, those smokers, and all others, are still more than safe to light up on campus.

The problem is that the ban is unenforced and therefore uncontained, making students unable to choose to avoid smokers and leading smokers to litter their cigarette butts across campus. Worse yet, however, UK is lying to its students by pretending to be tobacco free.

The policy, while its expressed intentions are apparently good-willed, is wholly unenforced. If you walk from William T. Young Library to Whitehall Classroom Building, you’re bound to see, or smell, at least a cloud of smoke or two because there’s no one to tell smokers otherwise. I would know; I was still smoking my first two years at UK and never had to hide it. The only person who commented on my smoking was a university police officer, who advised me to walk 10 feet farther from where gas work had recently been done.

At its essence, this policy is strictly for show. According to the Herald-Leader, the plan to enforce the policy was to encourage students and faculty to hold each other accountable. It’s an absurd expectation; we don’t prevent murders by reminding each other not to murder.

UK’s unwillingness to concede on its ban or recognize that there are smokers on campus anyway is doing more harm than good. Cigarette butts are littered around campus. Smoke can abruptly irritate students on their foot commutes to class. The policy has increased the prevalence of what it was supposedly intended to snuff out.

UK doesn’t have to dart to the opposite end of this issue either. But there’s plenty it can do, including designating smoking areas. There’s already a couple of de facto smoke zones. Some students smoke behind Whitehall in between classes; others light up at the corner of Rose Street and Columbia Avenue. We all see it, so why doesn’t UK put a couple of ash trays there? Or better yet, give the smokers official smoking areas in lower foot-traffic areas so non-smokers can avoid them. That’d immediately cut down the littered cigarette butts around campus and allow non-smokers to commute comfortably and smoke-free.

It’s a farce; UK knows its policy is ignored and smokers smoke on campus, they just want to be able to gloat “a tobacco-free campus” to potential new students and their families. It has nothing to do with students’ health or comfort because if it did, the current blanket ban isn’t the best answer for that.

It’s time for UK to stop lying to itself and to its students. This isn’t a tobacco free campus no matter how many “no smoking” signs are put up. Let the smokers smoke in designated spots, and let smoke-free students have the autonomy to, or not to, avoid those areas.

The smoke screen that is UK’s tobacco free policy isn’t the only cloud of smoke on campus, and it’s time for UK to be honest about that.