The New Fronts: Outdoor & Campus Smoking Bans

by Michael McFadden, author of Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains

Anyone who’s followed the War On Smokers over the last twenty years or so has seen the change from what seemed like quite reasonable requests to accommodate people who disliked concentrated smoke in the air of places they were required to be to a demand that smokers pretty much be relegated to a back corner parking lot on the dark side of the moon.

1998 brought about the first huge leap from reason in that process when California banned smoking in all workplaces, including bars, that employed six or more people.  It was followed about five years later by bar bans in Delaware and New York.  A few years after that a massive three state electoral push funded by multi-million dollar TV campaigning brought referenda votes in Nevada, Arkansas, and Ohio also banning smoking in bars.  As of 2012 roughly half the states in the US have such far-reaching bans, often including even private clubs and casinos… despite clear and indisputably tremendous losses in gambling tax revenue (1)

With the roll toward hospitality bans seemingly moving along on its own at this point, the antismoking juggernaut has turned its attention to the next step: doing something about the Smoker Problem outdoors.  As usual in their canny step-by-step campaign methodology, they focused first on the pleasant outdoor patios that many establishments had set up in attempts to mollify their smoking clientele and maintain their businesses.  The Antismokers looked out through their windows over a meal and said, “Why should WE be locked up inside here while the smokers have the choice to sit outside in all that fresh air and sunshine?  Something MUST be done about this!”

Enter the push for outdoor smoking bans.


In some cases the antismoking lobbyists were able to push these bans forward purely on the basis of their money, power, and carefully rigged surveys that supposedly showed “wide public support” for such bans.  In other cases, where legislators proved to have a bit more backbone, antismoking researchers produced studies supposedly providing a scientific grounding for them.  In reality, once one looks behind the headlines, one finds that the studies actually provide no such thing: generally all that’s demonstrated is that smoke does indeed exist in outdoor smoking areas and that we do indeed have technology nowadays that can even measure and quantify it.  (2)  The science says nothing about any real threat to human health from the concentrations and durations of exposures involved, but the press-releases, “authoritative statements,” and headlines make up for the lack of science and outdoor bans have gradually been spreading like an ugly and slow-moving plague as they moved beyond patios to encompass public plazas, parks, and beaches.  We’ve even seen the argument made that beach bans are justified on the basis of the “fire hazard” caused by smoking while sitting on a quintillion tons of sand next to a sextillion liters of water

However there was one venue that the Antismokers were having a harder time with: outdoor bans on university campuses.  University students have the uncomfortable habit of wanting a bit more information than press-released headlines provide, and many of them had enough sense to realize that there was very little substance to any claims of a “health threat” existing from the passing and diluted encounters with smoke that students or workers might experience in their daily campus travels.  The “Smoke Free Campuses” movement had tens of millions of dollars behind it and was able to coordinate all sorts of “planning conferences” to push its agenda,(3) but still most universities resisted the clarion call to “Clean Air.”

So what weapon was left to bring traditionally unruly and authority-resisting student populations into line?  Simple: just as with previous smoking ban efforts, money was the key.  In the last few years, as Smoke Free Campuses has expanded its hold from 300 or so up to almost 600 campuses they have “played the money card” and begun blackmailing universities: if the school wants millions of dollars in grant money they have to obey the new rules and agree to ban smoking. (4) At first, in order to tone down the protests, administrators will always emphasize the idea that the bans will be “self-enforcing” and that violators will simply be “offered” education and help if they want to quit smoking.  Of course once the ban is in place and accepted as a de facto situation the velvet gloves come off and students face fines or even expulsion if they refuse to bend over and take it.

Is there *any* medical and scientific justification for such bans?  No.  They are purely and absolutely a simple attempt at social engineering: a plan to treat the students like lab rats, “electro-shocking” them until they conform to the properly desired behavior patterns.  Even if one accepts the Antismokers’ own figures on the threats of secondhand smoke exposure indoors, the threat from walking by smokers, even crowds of smokers on a regular basis near the doorways of buildings, is so small as to be outright laughable.  Accepting the US EPA Report’s claim of a 19% lung cancer risk increase after 40 years of daily workplace exposure and applying that claim, with proper adjustments for duration and dilution, the absolute risk involved for students on a smoking campus would indicate that allowing such smoking would produce roughly one extra lung cancer for every two hundred million student-years of exposure.  While there are a lot of “perpetual grad students” out there on the campuses, I don’t think there are any that can lay claim to that sort of perpetuity!

Outdoor smoking bans are generally unjustified in almost any setting.  Outdoor smoking bans involving entire college campuses are simply efforts at behavior control aimed at a population that is easily threatened and intimidated out of fear of losing their investments in their educations.  They make as much sense, scientifically speaking, as smoking bans based on worries about setting the beaches and oceans on fire!




1) “The Lies Behind The Smoking Bans,” p.19.