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Smoking Snuffed Out

Op-Heads: a virtual chat on the issues that matter


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Click on the video above to watch SPH’s Michael Siegel (left) and Harold Cox discuss Boston’s new ban on tobacco sales in drug stores and college campuses. Click here to watch the short version. Click here to watch the full version.

Just 20 years ago, Boston smokers could light up almost anywhere — in restaurants, at Fenway Park, even in hospitals. But the city’s tobacco-friendly real estate was already dwindling, and by 2003, Boston had banned smoking in all indoor workplaces. This week, the city went a step further, officially prohibiting tobacco sales in pharmacies and on college campuses. The measure, which also stamps out smoking in hotel rooms and forbids any new hookah or cigar bars in the city, was passed by the Boston Public Health Commission in December. Businesses were given 60 days to comply.

Supporters of the new restrictions on pharmacies and campus convenience stores, such as Harold Cox, School of Public Health associate dean of public health practice and a member of the commission, say limiting the availability of cigarettes will help discourage people from picking up the habit and will prod those already hooked to quit.

But the new restrictions also have many critics, among them Michael Siegel, an SPH professor of social and behavioral sciences. Siegel has been an ardent supporter of making indoor workplaces smoke-free (he supports the measure’s anti-hookah and cigar bar provisions). But on his blog and Web site, he questions the public health rationale behind the bans on pharmacy and campus tobacco sales.

“We apparently don’t have a problem with young people being exposed to products that will make them sick, except on the rare occasion that they are in a pharmacy,” he writes. “When they go to a grocery store, we don’t care if they are exposed to products that make them sick. When they are outside of a college campus, we don’t care if they are exposed to products that make them sick.”

Shortly after the public health commission announced the pending restrictions, Siegel told a Boston Globe reporter that the smokers would simply take their business elsewhere. “This policy is not going to save any lives,” he said.

With the ban now in place, BU Today asked Cox and Siegel to sit down and talk about getting tough with tobacco control.

Got an issue to debate? E-mail today@bu.edu with “Op-Heads” in the subject line.

Robin Berghaus contributed to this piece.

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu. Robin Berghaus can be reached at berghaus@bu.edu.


9 Comments on Smoking Snuffed Out

  • Anonymous on 02.12.2009 at 12:43 am

    Just Quit!

    The addiction to smoking is one of the worst addictions I think anyone could have and my hat is off to everyone who has quit! For the people who still smoke and want to quit there is a new device called an electronic cigarette that may help you to taper down and quit much like the nicotine patch system that is just brilliant! If you are interested in there or want more information about the product you can go to http://www.invisismoke.com

  • David on 02.12.2009 at 5:18 am

    Why do you have them wear these silly headsets?

  • Anonymous on 02.12.2009 at 6:42 am

    The banning of campus tobacco sales is long overdue. The terrier card is a convenient way to support your college student and most parents do not want to buy their children the cigarettes that are likely to cause serious health issues. Students will continue to smoke but it should not be campus supported.

  • John D on 02.12.2009 at 8:31 am

    Smoking Ban?

    “This ban will help make it more difficult for people to get their cigarettes.” !!! Come on! How naive!

    This doesn’t sound like an “opposing-heads” conversation to me. If people want to smoke, let them! Some people, i.e. college students, enjoy going to hookah and cigar bars…why are we banning them because of their “addictive habits?” Next they’ll ban bars and liquor stores…or maybe sugar, or caffeine, or McDonald’s, because it’s all bad for us.

    Don’t worry though, the new “stimulus bill” has earmarked $58 Million for ‘anti-smoking” programs and legislation.

    Just another example of the government snooping around where they’re not supposed to, because they know better than we do about our own health. Outrageous!

  • Anonymous on 02.12.2009 at 9:06 am

    Role of Government

    1) Federal, state and local governments have already made it clear that smoking is hazardous to people’s health. This is where government involvement should stop. If people decide to smoke despite this information, then that is their choice. It is not the role of government to make health decisions for the people.

    2) Has anyone thought of the businesses that will suffer? Won’t they lose a large source of revenue to off campus businesses with this ban?

  • Anonymous on 02.12.2009 at 1:24 pm

    FAIR WARNING - What follows is a rant.

    In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, nationalism was a “good idea” that served as an excuse for oppressions that appeared, at the time, benign in most of their common manifestations. Public morality had its run in earlier centuries. Today, appropriately for a materialist age, it’s public health. ____ In every society there are control freaks who derive some gratification from forcing others to conform to their standards of the way people OUGHT to behave. And all kinds of arguments, standards, and “rational” criteria are devised to support the appropriate policies. ____ When the EPA second-hand smoke report first appeared in 1992, a couple of professional statisticians complained to me that it would be the last nail in the coffin of statisticians’ reputations. The field already had many critics (and then there’s the jokes about 3 kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics). But surprise! No one cared, since the outcome was so politically correct, and few apparently wanted to get tagged as supporting smoking or being a shill for the tobacco companies. A class of victims was needed to fully stigmatize smokers and to effect appropriate legal policies, and the overstatements and the several fudgings of standards of statistical practice were apparently OK, since it was for a “good cause.” An article in B.U.’s own Bostonia magazine cited one of the EPA report’s authors as saying just that. ____ But what does this kind of policy do for the credibility of statisticians and government agencies? And what happens when the new, lowered standards of statistical practice are put to the service of bad causes? How does one know if one’s “good cause” is truly good if one has to lie in support of it? ( Or if it’s as good as one thinks it is?) ____ This isn’t to say that second-hand smoke is benign, only that it harmfulness is overstated for political reasons. Much of its nastiness is aesthetic, but tastes can be acquired, as can distastes, as self-fulfilling prophecies of stigmas that one buys into. It’s amazing how, in a couple of short decades, widespread self-diagnosed “allergies” to secondhand smoke magically appeared among a population in which such “allergies” had previously been uncommon. Maybe not so amazing, since allergies can be highly psychosomatic. Today some people, who wouldn’t hesitate to go to a barbecue, react to the smell of cigarette smoke as if it’s sarin or phosgene gas, as if diluted, momentary, outdoor exposure causes instant lung cancer. ____ Ah, the delights of postmodernism, in which truth is something to degrade or to be confused with felt emotions or opinions under the guise of “personal truth.” There’s a larger self-fulfilling prophecy going on here. The more we, as a society, tell ourselves that emotions rule reason and personality, that there’s no such thing as objective truth, and that we can’t be trusted to perform simple tasks like choosing the left lane for a left turn, the more stupidly and irrationally we behave. We tell ourselves that ethical rules are merely cultural constructs, and the more we institutionalize double-standards of toleration, the more intolerant and self-righteous many become. But all this is OK, as long as it’s for a “good cause.” ____ These points don’t apply only to smoking, but the other issues are more controversial.

  • Cherry on 02.13.2009 at 10:04 am

    I really appreciate the campus ban on tobacco. Though its people’s choice that what they want to do and what not, but atleast the tobacco products should not be campus supported.

  • Anonymous on 02.15.2009 at 1:28 pm

    More than Restricting Purchase

    This ban is about more than restricting purchase of tobacco at certain locations. I couldn’t figure out why the Kenmore Campus Convenience stopped selling tobacco products, then I saw a letter with the Seal of the City of Boston on the top. The ban also restricts WHERE people can smoke in addition to where they can purchase tobacco products. I’m not a smoker, but I did lose two grandparents to an addiction to tobacco and my only childhood memories of seeing them before they died was in a nursing home, not because of their age but because of how their health had been impacted by smoking. No, this ban won’t stop people from smoking but it enacts restrictions on where people can smoke and makes it harder for people to go grab a quick cig. I hate walking outside a BU building and into a cloud of smoke. Smoking doesn’t just affect the person choosing to smoke so to the RANT above, drop your arrogant attitude. Health effects or not, I don’t like walking into a cloud of smelly smoke. Whether it can or cannot be proven that second-hand smoke “kills” or not doesn’t much matter. This isn’t about someone being forced to conform to the way society wants someone to dress nor is it me disliking how someone choose to dress – it doesn’t affect me and isn’t my problem. But someone choosing to smoke just outside the entrance to a building does affect me, because as the name implies there is smoke hanging around. Some of my best friends have started smoking because of the stress of school, where did they buy their first pack? CampCo. I’m not saying it would have stopped them if they had to walk a few more blocks, but they might have thought twice before walking an extra three blocks in the freezing cold just for a cig — and if that makes it even harder for someone to accidentally blow smoke in my face as I walk out of the GSU or SMG then I’m all for the ban. And there’s a reason why people blow smoke away from them – they don’t want it either.

  • David on 02.16.2009 at 3:00 pm

    I do believe that making cigarettes less accessible will influence the decision to smoke for college students. Limitation in availability of alcohol is a strategy that works for decreasing dangerous use among college students. If we make cigarettes unavailable enough…perhaps this harmful behavior will change as well.

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