UK’s smoking ban is a working compromise for everyone

By Leo Weisberger, guest columnist

Of all the issues buzzing around about campus life, few items seem to have drawn as much ire as the 2009 campuswide smoking ban.

Smokers, predictably, were outraged. Non-smokers, on the other hand, have more than once bitterly complained that the ban is a farce, lampooning the administration’s lack of action and effective enforcement of the policy.

Apparently nobody wants to speak kindly about the three-year long status quo. And that’s a shame, because the smoking ban is actually working out perfectly for everybody involved — just in ways nobody can admit.

For one, the smoking ban has fostered a generally agreeable sense of self-regulation among smokers. A recent Kentucky Kernel article mockingly made reference to a “Ring of Fire” which circles the campus, offering smokers unofficial places to gather and light up between classes or work shifts. What these areas really represent is something which was obnoxiously missing in the days before the ban — respect for non-smokers.

Prior to the ban one would often see conspicuous clouds of cigarette smoke waft up out of a throng of students pouring out of White Hall or the Chem/Phys Building.For non-smokers caught in the thicket of people and smoke, the experience must have been endlessly frustrating.

For smokers, however, the flat-out campuswide ban is unworkable. To students and faculty who work, study and sometimes live at UK, the expectation of crossing the 800-plus acre campus to take a 10-minute smoke break — an unhealthy choice but not a criminal act — is unreasonable, and it should come as no surprise that it has been routinely disregarded.

What the ban has been achieving, then, has been the willing segregation of smokers away from those who might be bothered by it.

Places behind White Hall and Good Samaritan Hospital are areas out of the way and easily avoided by those sensitive to smoke, and afford those of us who smoke reasonable — albeit unofficial — opportunities to do so without encroaching on the comfort of others.

But it’s not just student relations that benefit from the quasi-real ban. The university, it seems, gets to have its cake and eat it too.

UK can advertise that it’s a tobacco-free campus, highlighting its progressive, health-positive idealism to future students and their parents, yet the administration doesn’t have to comb through a shrinking budget to finance its enforcement. And that’s probably a good thing — pushing for total compliance with the smoking ban, including personnel to chase after kids and a small office to process fines and citations could get expensive.

Moreover, the university might be saving some money on its employee’s health insurance. Humana, the Louisville-based company that provides many of UK’s insurance plans, has recently become a public voice for workplace wellness initiatives, offering significant discounts to employer’s who maintain smoke-free facilities for their employees.

And if a smoking ban affords the university an opportunity to take advantage of a budget-saving program like this, then we should all celebrate the ban — even while we quietly skirt its rules.

Eli Capilouto’s recent pledge to revisit the smoking ban is understandable, but I would caution students, staff and administration alike to carefully consider the delicate working compromise that’s arising from our curious status quo, and not be too hasty in committing precious funding and energy toward rocking the boat.