University Park Undergraduate Association, the undergraduate student government at Penn State, is seeking to make Penn State a tobacco free campus. While many people may believe that this is a progressive move by the UPUA (who overwhelmingly consist of left leaning ideologues as evidenced by their legislative history here), this move unfairly targets minority international students, especially those from Asia. Attending the college of IST, as well as being a smoker, I have observed that the majority of those at Penn State who smoke are international students, specifically those from countries such as China, Korea, and India. Putting a smoking ban in place at Penn State would put a very large burden on these students, while generally not affecting the white student population who smokes little in comparison.
This latest motion from the UPUA is completely contradictory to their stated aim to “improve student life for all undergraduate students at Penn State University Park”, Making it so that minority students would have to give up a part of their culture and identity in order for them to function at Penn State goes against these values. While many younger Americans choose not to smoke, in China over 300 million people smoke, including over half of their male population, with Korea and India also having high rates of tobacco use. If Penn State were to switch to a smoke free campus, a significant portion of the international students would be put at a great inconvenience. They may choose not to live on campus, miss events, or even drop out of Penn State if they are not allowed to use tobacco.
A smoke free campus could plausibly lead to an increase in sexual assaults and rapes on campus. Imagine that a freshmen girl, who smokes, lives on campus (as she would be required to do). If she needs to smoke a cigarette, she may have to walk miles in the middle of the night to get off campus, especially if she lives in East Halls, whereas now there are well lit designated smoking areas near the dorms. The proposed ban would eliminate these areas and send students off campus and into possible danger. During the discussion of the smoking ban, UPUA even acknowledged these dangers, but chose to ignore them. According to their actions, they would rather seriously inconvenience minority students than give people freedom.
Instead of banning smoking altogether from Penn State, it would be much more effective to just enforce designated smoking areas. Currently there appears to be few if any of these areas. Having attended a branch campus, I can attest that these do work and that they are possible and even beneficial if done correctly. Penn State does not currently have a system in place that tells all new students where these areas are, and some of their ash trays are in places that encourages smoking near buildings. There are several cases where the school set up ash trays directly in front of building entrances, encouraging students to break the law by smoking within 15 feet of an academic building entrance. When trying to search for the policy about smoking at Penn State, I was brought to a broken link. I am not suggesting UPUA do anything radical, just that they listen to their constituents and work on a less radical compromise that would benefit the whole of the student body.