Biking along the busy Mansholtlaan that marks the eastern border of Wageningen campus, I came across a curious sight. There, on the cycling lane, next to the FrieslandCampina building, stood a lonely figure smoking a cigarette, quite sadly I might add, looking at the traffic passing a few meters from him, his dark blue jacket buttoned to the top against the cold of the cloudy autumn afternoon. It struck me as odd as I swerved around him, and we mumbled our greetings. By lack of a better activity on the bike, I thought of why he would pick such a depressing spot to smoke. Then I suddenly understood: No smoking on campus.
Now, I think it is hilarious and ironic this law extends to the businesses on campus, but I see two problems here. First, a point of semantics, is FrieslandCampina et al. really located on campus? Increasingly, it seems as if Forum and the other university buildings are part of a business park instead.
Shouldn’t these people decide for themselves whether or not they smoke?
The second problem is the nature of this campus-wide smoking ban. Most people here are legally considered adults; they are allowed to drink, drive and vote, which apparently constitutes adulthood. On top of that, aren’t campus dwellers ostensibly the smartest bunch of the country? Shouldn’t these people decide for themselves whether or not they smoke? Maybe you think the state knows better regarding what is best for us, it is a scientifically informed decision, this will reduce the cost of our healthcare insurance, and who are those few idiots still smoking anyway etcetera. Well, those may be valid arguments, but I fully disagree. I think our freedoms are far more important than blindly chasing better health statistics. If I want to kill myself in whatever creative way, at whatever speed, isn’t that up to me? Protecting citizens against the marketing of the tobacco industry is great, but banning smoking on campus seems a bit paternalistic, doesn’t it?
And what about stress, sitting, loneliness, pollution and depression? Why don’t you go ahead and ban working over hours at universities as well then, if you care so much?
That guy, standing there next to a busy road, staring at the cars, breathing in the smog, the smoke and the shame, is he going to be dying slower or faster with this new law? And who cares if he dies faster anyway, is life expectancy really the most important? The blame is also partially his for conforming – dignity is taken, never given.
Well, at least this smoking ban might teach these companies for being on campus, meddling with our education and science. I hope this poor bloke will maybe start questioning the location of his office, but I’m guessing he may not be the type.
Luuk Slegers is masterstudent Internationale Ontwikkeling, richting Sociologie, en woont in Wageningen op Droevendaal met zijn vijf huisgenoten. Hij gaat graag ’s morgens een stuk wandelen in het Bennekomse bos.