Watch out if you’re a student smoker at Hopewell Valley Central High School in New Jersey. Any student found smoking on school property is automatically slapped with a five-day suspension. A second offense costs a student a nine-day suspension and a possible $100 fine.
Most Hopewell Valley students seem to favor the new anti smoking penalties. The school’s bathrooms used to be blue with smoke. Teachers sometimes falsely charged emerging students with smoking because of the smoky odor of their clothing.
Hopewell Valley’s principal, David G. Oliver, is pleased with the new rules. “Our bathrooms, which used to be pretty doggone bad, are much, much, much, much better,” he says. “We’re approaching it from a health standpoint first and a legal standpoint second,” he goes on to explain. “We don’t want our kids slowly killing themselves in front of their peers.”
But some student smokers don’t agree. “It’s an attempt at social engineering,” one complained. “My health is my own health, not the school’s health.”
The antismoking rule at Hopewell Valley mirrors a trend showing up throughout the United States. Smokers feel they have become outcasts, allowed to satisfy their habit in fewer and fewer places.
The crackdown on smoking really began in 1964 when the U.S. surgeon general released a landmark report linking smoking with lung cancer. The government followed with a series of measures forbidding smoking in public places and banning cigarette advertising on radio and TV.
Private companies and local governments have followed the lead of the U.S. government in passing ever more restrictive laws against smoking.
In 1983, San Francisco became the first of many cities to ban smoking in offices and in other workplaces. This year, the McDonald’s Corporation banned smoking completely in its 1,400 wholly owned fastfood restaurants. An association of 90,000 chain restaurants has urged the government to ban smoking not only in restaurants but in all public buildings. This move, the association seems to feel, would free restaurants from having to make such decisions on their own – and possibly angering smokers.
Until recently, much of the opposition to smoking was based on the harm smokers did to themselves. But a 1993 report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests that nonsmokers face a threat from inhaling secondhand smoke. The report identifies 43 substances in secondhand smoke that can produce cancer. Just being around a person who is smoking can be dangerous, claims the report. Backing the EPA report are 30 scientific studies from around the world that point to secondhand smoke as a health danger.
The EPA now classifies secondhand smoke as a group A carcinogen (cause of cancer) – putting it among the most dangerous cancer-causing substances. In response to the EPA classification, President Clinton has given his backing to a proposed law that would outlaw smoking in all buildings used by the public.
But several cigarette companies call the threat of secondhand smoke exaggerated. Last year, the Philip Morris company sued the EPA for officially labeling secondhand smoke a carcinogen.
Cigarettes as a Drug
This year, another government agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), stepped up the war on smoking by considering labeling cigarettes as an addictive drug. The FDA charges that smokers become dependent on the how much nicotine in a cigarette, and smoke to satisfy their addiction.
The FDA also accuses some cigarette makers of deliberately adding more nicotine to tobacco to hook smokers on cigarettes. “Evidence brought to our attention is accumulating that suggests that cigarette manufacturers may intend that their products contain nicotine … to achieve drag effects in some smokers,” it said.
Cigarette manufacturers deny that nicotine is addictive and deny charges that they add more nicotine to cigarettes to hook smokers. “The presence of nicotine does not make cigarettes a drug or smoking an addiction,” says William Campbell, head of Philip Morris. “We do not set does nicotine cause cancer levels,” says Dr. Alexander Spears of Lorillard Tobacco.
If the FDA proves its clam that nicotine is an addictive drug, the agency would be able to regulate the sale of cigarettes as a controlled drug. In June, the American Medical Association urged just that step. And some health experts argue that the FDA should even ban cigarettes as an addictive drug. But such drastic action is believed unlikely.
Tough Measures Go Too Far
A lot of people feel that the war on smoking has gone too far. These people argue that:
* The campaign to ban smoking will lead to “health police” campaigns banning other bad habits, such as drinking coffee or eating fatty foods.
* It’s good to try to persuade people to behave better. But the antismoking campaign tries to bully smokers.
* Adults are allowed to do many things that are bad for their health. Why restrict smoking?
* Millions of people feel that they can’t quit smoking. It doesn’t help them to be harassed about a habit they may hate.
* Tobacco is important to the U.S. economy. There are more than 137,000 tobacco farms in the United States. Entire farming regions specialize in growing tobacco. The tobacco industry is a $48 billion-a-year giant, employing hundreds of thousands of workers.
Tough Measures Are Justified
Supporters of tough measures against smoking feel that such measures help the people. Here are arguments used by supporters of the war against smoking:
* Smoking must be closely restricted because it affects not only smokers but – through secondhand smoke – people around smokers.
* There is no indication that other habits such as coffee drinking will become the target of campaigns such as that against smoking.
* The antismoking campaign has improved the nation’s health by persuading countless smokers to give up the habit.
* It is the government’s duty to educate the public fully on matters of health.
* Overwhelming scientific evidence says that smoking hurts people. The government ought to act on this evidence.
* Shouldn’t anyone stop a person about to drive over a cliff? That is all the government is trying to do.