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Editorial: UMaine’s smoking ban is necessary for student safety

On Jan. 30, the use of recreational marijuana was legalized for people ages 21 and older in Maine. This was a follow-up from 2016 Election Day, where the Question 1 vote passed by a slim margin and faced a recount before Gov. Paul LePage finally signed the law into effect on Dec. 31.

This legalization appears to be at odds with UMaine’s campus-wide smoking ban. While it is now legal for many college students to smoke marijuana in the state, that does not bend the rule for UMaine campuses, where smoking is still strictly outlawed. Though the ban may seem too strict for smokers, it is not just the image of the campus that this policy protects.

The smoking ban is one measure, of many, that keeps campus safe and clean for everyone. Each person may choose for themselves to smoke, but they should completely refrain from exercising that freedom in a place deemed “smoke-free.” Secondhand smoke is a serious, legitimate concern for many people. The 2014 Surgeon General’s report “The Health Consequences of Smoking — 50 Years of Progress” states that the U.S. sees 41,000 deaths as a result of secondhand smoke exposure alone. This figure is much higher when including all smoking-related deaths, at nearly half a million — 480,000 deaths on average per year.

To a healthy person, occasional exposure shouldn’t be a terrible concern. But frequent exposure increases the risk of developing a smoking-related illness. There is increased concern, however, for anyone with breathing problems. Asthma is a common disease that impacts how well a person can breathe in varying conditions. Any environment where the air is especially dusty, cold or smoky may trigger an asthma attack. Even the clothes and belongings of someone who has smoked recently are a risk to those with severe asthma.

Though some factors, like cold weather, cannot be monitored, others can. Limiting risk of exposure is one of the ways UMaine has decided to promote wellness and safety for students and other campus goers. The tobacco policy on UMaine’s website reads, “This initiative represents an extension of UMaine’s student and employee wellness initiatives, all aimed at fostering a healthier, more productive living/learning environment while working toward reduced healthcare costs.”

Furthermore, UMaine is continually devoted to having a green campus. They make efforts with recycling, composting and other environmentally friendly efforts. Closing the campus to smoking helps to reduce the waste of cigarette butt and carton litter. This helps protect the safety of wildlife on campus, as well as the people who pass through.

The smoking ban as a whole is not a ban on smokers. It is not meant as punishment for personal decisions. Rather, it is a necessary measure that the university has taken in order to keep everyone on campus comfortable and well. Considering the heavy risk that smoke exposure poses on certain people, it is a small sacrifice to ensure the campus is accessible at all times. This is something we should work to maintain, despite shifting national views on smoking and marijuana usage.

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