28 September 2006

Smoking Ban on NUS Grounds

As most NUS students and visitors will know, there is and has always been a campus-wide ban on smoking. There are signs that declare NUS as a no-smoking zone, especially at strategic locations such as the entrances to the school. I'm not certain what exactly the punishment is, though I've read that warning letters are frequently issued to first time offenders. (And what about subsequent offenders?)

According to the Code of Student Conduct issued by the Office of Student Affairs,

The University believes in providing an environment of clean air for everyone on campus
and so has made our premises generally a "smoke free" zone. In consideration for our non-smoking colleagues and fellow students, we ask that all smokers respect this non-
smoking policy, which is applicable in all campus buildings, eating places and areas with regular human traffic such as bus stops and sports grounds.

While I see where this argument is coming from, I certainly do question if this rule is practical or even reasonable. Firstly, one must emphasize that "campus-wide" really means campus-wide, including the halls and residential areas. Yes, so that means that for students who smoke, he or she will have to, in principle, head out of the school grounds before doing so.

This kind of sweeping rule is not fair to smokers, especially those who already have the habit before matriculation. Smoking cannot be quit within a short time, and certainly not everyone is capable of doing so. Most smokers are willing to quit if they could (who wouldn't, given the absurd prices of cigarettes), but the fact is that cigarettes are just addictive. Preventing them from smoking may be an encouragement, but it is an aggressive one, and it may backfire, ending up with people breaking the rules which often appears to be the case.

Last year when I stayed in PGP, there are quite some students who smoke during the late hours in the kitchen, resulting in a rather stinging air everytime I enter the kitchen. Sure, I would prefer it there had not been any smoke, but I do not blame them for doing what they did. Asking them to walk all the way out of school to light a cigarette is utterly ridiculous. And smoking in any open area is an invitation to getting caught. And there aren't any "yellow boxes" (for those not in the army, yellow boxes are areas in a camp demarcated for smoking) marked out for them.

If the administration really has the intention of protecting the interests of non-smokers, a better move will be to draw out smoking zones within the school grounds at locations such as balconies or rooftops where the smoke can dissipate. The current policy exposes non-smokers to some smoke if the smokers decide to break the rule, defeating the purpose in the first place. In addition, it is fairer to the smokers as well. Of course, a complete ban is one damn bloody strong incentive (or disincentive, depending on your point of view) to quit. But is it effective?


The Negative Man said...

I agree with your arguments, but interestingly I also see some parallels with certain arguments for the legalisation of drugs.

Pandemonium said...

Well, I do not disagree, but there are some differences too, such as the control of drugs and things like that. But most importantly, the motivation of this post is that the ban is not working well, since smokers tend to break the rule. My idea, though hard to implement, ultimately also protects non-smokers.

The Negative Man said...

On second thought, I am reminded of some experiences in army life. Indeed there are yellow boxes, but there are also people who smoke in the bunks, toilets (which are not places where smoking is allowed) . Of course, why they break the rules is because of convenience - the yellow boxes are too far, they might say.

But an important question is , what is "too far" or "too inconvenient" ? In some cases, it might be clear that something is indeed wrong, for example in the NUS case as you pointed out. The problem is, where should we draw the line?

In any case, I think a minimally reasonable guide is to allow smoking areas for the residential areas. On the other hand, I am more ambivalent when it comes to the other parts of the campus.

NinjaLZG said...

what to do? the some very smart organisation induced some people to pick up smoking during their 2 years in (read: hell). As for smoking, I really find it irksome as they are being extremely INCONSIDERATE to others who are non-smokers. I think NUS is too slack lar. They must be firm on catching culprits just like how they are in making exams so difficult.

Pandemonium said...

The Negative Man:

Indeed, there has to be some sort of balance... compromise... in drawing these smoking zones. Residential areas ought to have smoking zones, that's for sure, but I feel that there should be some within the school compound as well. They could be at windy rooftops, or some secluded areas where human activity is minimal.

The reason is that many students spend most of their time in the school compound, sometimes even from morning to night. And then there are those who don't stay in hostel, but with the school compound itself (hmm... I wonder who...). However, you have a point. There will be less external pressure for them to quit smoking if smoking zones are set up in great convenience.

These details are debatable of course. But I think it is agreeable that the current complete ban is not working well.


But won't it be an unreasonable request to demand smokers not to smoke in school? I do hope you're aware of the addictiveness of tobacco, as well as the withdrawal symptoms one will experience if he/she tries to quit. To put it into your context, just imagining yourself quit masturbation forever. And throw in some withdrawal symptoms as well (e.g. an infernal itch at your groin).

Yes, the smoke is irritating and detrimental to non-smokers, which is why I propose moving these smokers to a location where their smoke won't affect non-smokers. Perhaps they're inconsiderate when their smoke affects others, but then, it is the rules that are inconsiderate to them in the first place. To cast this into another analogy, why do so many people try to squeeze their way through things while in the Army?

If you think NUS is slack in catching these rule-breakers, then perhaps I should ask you this: when you see someone smoking, have you ever informed the authorities?

NinjaLZG said...

Hmm... Rules unfair to them? I'm pretty sure that they would have known that tabacco is indeed addictive and since they have chosen this path of choosing to smoke, it's already their choice to do so. As such, knowing very well that Singapore doesn't really advocate smoking, they are just making things hard for themselves. Thus, having such rules in place only serve to protect the individual non-smokers.

These things come in a package. It's just like if 1 chooses to be a Singapore citizen, he must be prepared to take on the responsibilities of being 1 (read: hell). So similarly, if the choice of smoking is chosen, then he must be prepared to take whatever that comes with this "package deal" from having to pay an extremely high price of "cancer sticks" to having to inconvenience themselves in this case. So why should they claim "unfair"?

Yeap, I have informed the RA before on this problem and even sent emails down to the management office of PGP, but all they reply is "we'll look into the problem after giving them the details of the incident..." Nothing much was done right after that. In fact, I think NUS should start to fine or prosecute people who smoke in their premises instead of just giving a mere warning.

Perhaps they can start by removing those "friendly" posters of the constant reminder that NUS is smoke-free and blar blar blar...

And change it to...

"NO SMOKING, FINE $1000". Short and sweet. Nice.

Pandemonium said...

Yup, I agree that it is them that has chosen this path in the first place, and hence it is a price they have to pay. But my personal opinion is that we must look at the circumstances in which they pick up smoking. From what I know of people around me, a major proportion of smokers pick up the habit due to stress, and this is one factor that I think the no-smoking campaign has been grossly over-simplified. The situation is probably much more complex than most of us can comprehend.

A person may be entirely logical in his or her thinking, and knows perfectly well, as you and I have, the ills and disadvantages of smoking. But when he or she is exposed to an inordinate amount of stress or pressure, smoking is a channel of temporary relief. In such situations, it is emotions that overrule logic.

I think sometimes when we "punish" people, we must leave space for sympathy. We should not seek to push them over the cliff. The smokers are already suffering from health hazards, and it will take an enormous amount of will power to quit. If we push them too hard or fast, they may not be able to take it. I will perhaps liken this to BMT... it's a gradual (albeit tough still) switch to military life; it won't do good to throw one into an operational unit instantly.

This is not to mention foreign students who smoke. They may be exposed to different conditions when they grow up, hence they may be more liable to smoke.

In addition, the change in rules should not, in principle, affect non-smokers. If well-planned, the smoke from these smoking zones should be dissipated properly and not be carried to places where other people might be.

Well, if you have informed the RAs and nothing is done, then I perhaps have nothing to say about it. It could be that your RA is inefficient, but that is beyond speculation.

But I disagree with putting up those "hostile" fine signs. Singapore is already known as a "fine" city, a merciless, strict and by-the-book state. Ya, it may be more effective to have those signs, but I'll personally prefer signs that are less threatening, less authoritarian.

NinjaLZG said...

you do bring up an interesting point of people taking up smoking due to stress, etc. I do know of friends who take it due to family problems, but definitely not stress. As a matter of fact, these days there are drugs which help to induce endopines (however u spell that) which triggers the "happy" mood of a person. Couple this with psychiatrist/counsellors, stress should be relieved easily. So why would they want to choose smoking, taking the easy way out instead of actually going thru' the right channels?

The only reason I can think of is because it is more convenient to smoke instead of going thru all the hassle that is mentioned. I would say this is more of LAZY than convenience.

"sympathy"? How do we know when to exercise the leniency in punishment? There will always be a group of people who cry foul if punishment is done based on sympathy as each person's perception of the problem is different. Having a fixed set of rules to follow and to stick to these strictly is a good way of ensuring no-nonsense and fairness for all.

Since the PGP management and RAs aren't really effective in solving this problem, having mandatory warning signs of FINES would certainly be most useful. Perhaps the only time to change these signs to a less authoritarian one would be the time when people on campus learn some consideration for others instead of being self infatuated with "I, myself and me" all the time.

Maybe they are people who enjoy breathing haze and CANNOT breathe fresh air. Or maybe they love this breathlessness feeling of choking. Either way, as love as the air is polluted they will get this "high". Sheesh...