Our Take: Tavern goes downhill

For some time, the war between smokers and non-smokers has played itself out in the halls, classrooms and restaurants of the AU campus. Last year, AU students returned to find smoking banned in lobbies of buildings and such communal areas as the Davenport Lounge. While the non-smokers on campus surely appreciate the lack of carcinogens in the air, the latest step by the university to eliminate smoking on campus is a step over the edge.

The new smoking ban in The Tavern is not only a step to strangle the rights of those who choose to smoke, it is indicative of a real university-wide effort to reduce the choices students can make about their own bodies and their own lives.

Not that a smoking ban in The Tavern is necessarily the beginning of a fascist regime at AU, but it is another chunk out of the receding personal rights of students on campus (and administrators wonder why so many students choose to live off campus). The 1994-1995 Student Handbook readily states that it is the plan of the Task Force on Smoking "that The American University move toward the goal of a smoke-free environment." Do these people want to willingly disregard the 21 percent of students who smoke on a daily basis, according to one recent poll conducted in conjunction with the Office of Student Life? Despite the fact that a single pack of cigarettes costs $2.95 at the Eagle's Nest, nearly twice what many students pay for a pack at home, one cashier says she finds it difficult to keep them in stock. Doesn't this demand for cigarettes in the face of outrageous prices indicate something to the university administration?

The main issue in this argument is not how this infringement is an affront to smokers and, incidentally, how desolate The Tavern is after the smoking ban, but how little steps like this, which seem fairly harmless right now, can escalate and compound. Will AU become like one New Jersey college that has banned smoking on campus from all buildings altogether, and only allows smoking in designated areas outside?

In a mailing sent home to students over the summer, The Tavern smoking ban was said to be on a trial basis. The opportunity to remove the ban is there. It's not a legal issue - the university has the right to put up no-smoking signs in places where it's okay to smoke. It is just an issue that AU has been adamant about in recent years.

This university prides itself on having a diverse, international student body. Smoking is not the mark of Cain in other countries like it is here. Do we want to encourage and invite international students to this university, then punish them for wanting to exercise a habit that is in many cases a part of their culture? There was a big push last year under former SC President Matt Pittinsky to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to utilize The Tavern as a place to socialize. This new policy puts all those efforts in jeopardy by making the Tavern less appealing. No amount of well-framed photos of diverse peoples will attract diverse students like an opportunity to kick back with a drink and a smoke.

The bottom line is that the students at this university who choose to smoke do exactly that: choose to smoke. These students pay the same tuition bill as non-smokers, and should be free to exercise their legal right without feeling like second-class citizens or modern-day lepers.

The Tavern issue is one of compromise. The Tavern is large enough to successfully accommodate smoking and non-smoking sections, as has been done in the past, with one completely removed and separate from the other. At a university that prides itself on diversity and peace and conflict resolution, isn't a compromise the most logical answer? The smoking ban must be hurting Tavern business, as evidenced this week. The ban is therefore not in Marriott's best interests. By taking away one of the best places for smokers to comfortably socialize and share a cigarette, the university is going to lose them to some other social venue.

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