Richard Shafer, Grand Forks, column: Give UND smokers at least one warm place
By Richard Shafer GRAND FORKS -- It's a frigid morning on the UND campus. An associate professor, two international graduate students and a food service worker huddle behind a dumpster, finding cold comfort in their cigarettes and their sense of ...
By Richard Shafer
GRAND FORKS -- It's a frigid morning on the UND campus. An associate professor, two international graduate students and a food service worker huddle behind a dumpster, finding cold comfort in their cigarettes and their sense of solidarity as social outcasts and lawbreakers.
I'll be self-righteous here and let readers know that I don't smoke. But I think it is clear to most that the UND Tobacco Free Policy is draconian and cruel, plus it constitutes an added health threat to those who endure standing outside to smoke in the harsh North Dakota climate.
And it's not just at UND. At Altru and other businesses and institutions in Grand Forks and elsewhere, good workers are consigned to loading docks and available windbreaks to enjoy their cigarette.
Another dilemma for smokers at UND is that they can't smoke in campus housing. American students are used to complying with such restrictions, but many foreign students who smoke find the policy inhospitable and authoritarian.
It is absurd to think smokers will quit because of such policies. We may have a budding Nobel prize winner out there trying to light a Marlboro in a blizzard.
The anti-smoking crusade has an American puritanical ring to it. It was religious zealots who led the fight to pass Prohibition in 1920, just when many Americans wanted to celebrate winning World War I. It was a form of class warfare in which old guard Americans exerted their dominance over less pious working-class citizens who enjoyed their pubs, beer halls and the tradition of wine in religious ceremonies.
The result was that normal users were turned into furtive criminals.
There is an element of that smugness in the current health crusade against tobacco, which leaves smokers out in the cold, in order to make the well-known point about the dangers of smoking.
There are ways to compromise and accommodate regarding the problem.
I agree that no one should have to unwillingly breathe secondhand smoke and that the campus remain free of cigarette litter.
But I attended Utah State University in the late 1960s and early 1970s. At that time here at UND, students and faculty were free to smoke in campus buildings and classrooms, but Utah State already had policies banning smoking on campus. (This was influenced by Mormonism, the dominant religion in Utah.)
Even so, Utah State was progressive enough -- or humane enough -- to provide a well-ventilated smoking lounge in the student union. It was called the Briar, and it was a gathering place for visiting professors, foreign students and some of the best minds on campus.
These intellectuals, of course, didn't have the sense to avoid smoking. Still, there was more of an education to be had in the Briar for an undergraduate like me than in the classroom, because the smoking habit cut across all class, social and gender lines.
The Briar was the center of the debate about the Vietnam War, civil rights, women's rights and other very pressing issues of the that era. And the ventilation system must have been a good one: In memory, the secondhand smoke wasn't that bad, because I survived my long hours in the Briar and had minor success as a distance runner.
Of course, I would hate to have a place at UND that encouraged smoking, but even the youngest UND freshmen is likely old enough to vote and to fight America's wars. It doesn't make sense to continue to ostracize and punish smokers for a behavior that is legal and a matter of free choice.
Let's end the discrimination and bring smokers in out of the cold.
Shafer is a professor of journalism at UND.