Smoking kills — nobody can dispute that. Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death, causing lung, throat, mouth and other cancers. Cigarette smoking is responsible for 5 million deaths worldwide annually, and 480,000 deaths in the United States alone. Smoking rates have risen in New York City this year, up to 16.1 percent from 2010’s 14 percent. The fight against cigarettes must continue with the restoration of funding to anti-smoking campaigns by New York City officials. In addition, action is required on NYU’s part to enforce its policy of being a smoke-free campus.
The increase in the New York City smoking rate is partly due to budget cuts. Money for anti-smoking programs and marketing campaigns in New York City has been cut nearly in half since 2009, when the smoking rate was lower. This news is extremely troubling. The public appears to have dismissed the importance of anti-smoking initiatives, believing that smoking rates would decline with or without continued efforts. Tobacco and its pervasive culture will not just go away, however. It creeps back when least expected and cannot solely be diminished with Tobacco 21, the provision that raised the smoking age in the city. Cigarette taxes amount to over $1 billion annually in the New York City, which should be spent on anti-smoking initiatives. City officials must continue to release commercials that target youth and students to spread greater awareness about the costs of smoking.
NYU also must assume responsibility for the culture around smoking by changing the signs outside of all NYU buildings. Instead of merely proclaiming that NYU is a smoke-free campus, these signs must have a number or website that gives information on how to anonymously complain and document violations. It is university policy that no one can smoke near the doors of any official school building. Violations should be penalized with appropriate warnings and fines. Not every smoker can be stopped, but if the effort is seen as consistent enforcement rather than just rhetoric via signs and policy statements, the situation will be greatly mitigated. Curbing instances of smoking in places like Bobst Library’s entrance can make NYU a healthier place.
Despite the culture surrounding cigarettes, it is important to bluntly recount the risks. Cigarettes are a poisonous addiction, and New York City residents’ smoking rates make them more susceptible to this harsh reality. It is unfair that city residents, including NYU students, must be subjected to secondhand smoke. Students must walk through a cloud of toxins when trying to enter their dorm, study or eat at a dining hall. Both city and university officials must take initiative to reboot anti-smoking efforts. Limiting smoking outside of Bobst would be a good place to start.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 15 print edition. Email Matthew Tessler at [email protected]