No Thank You for Smoking

By Alex Newhouse

I love to leave my window open in my room. The cool breeze, the smell of the trees and the rain, and the soft white noise of the voices of the people who socialize below all contribute to making my room feel open and more welcoming. I can barely sleep without it open — something seems off when the air is not circulating and it hangs heavy and stagnant over me, growing warmer and warmer throughout the night until sleep is impossible. The cold night air allows me to sleep better and longer, and as a result my window is open more often than it isn’t. In any weather, I let the air in to keep my room smelling fresh and feeling cool.

But every day, usually three or four times a day, depending on the direction of the wind, my room fills with smoke. This is not the smoke of campfires and fireplaces which suggests a wintry day huddled around crackling, burning logs. It is the acrid, sickly-sweet smoke of marijuana, or the bitter and rotten smoke of tobacco. I hate it. I hate the way that sometimes the smokiness gets so strong that I could swear that the air in my room is turning visibly polluted.

Tobacco is legal and marijuana should be, don’t get me wrong. But I should not have to sit in my room and wish to open my window to catch the fresh air, but then be inundated by the brutal, irritating smoke of cigars, cigarettes or joints. I should not want to let a breeze come in and receive a lungful of contaminated air instead.

Because of this, I ask the people who smoke to stop using the stairs and patio on the west side of Ross as a smoke spot. In fact, stop smoking at all in close proximity to a living space. Now, I understand all about the love of convenience and the overwhelming hatred of walking any significant distance that pervades our society, but this is ridiculous. The people who smoke have completely neglected the desires of many of the students around them. This is not just a matter of principle, either. Smoking outside residential buildings should not be done because of more than just some sense of manners. This is a matter of health, as well. I don’t have asthma, but my lungs are not the strongest, and I’ve coughed and had slight difficulty breathing some days because of the amount of smoke entering my room. Further, I vehemently dislike the smells of pot and tobacco, and have been woken up in the past because of the smoke.

Of course, the principle is important too. Is smoking so desirable that people cannot even be bothered to move another hundred yards away before lighting up? Or is it really just a matter of laziness, the perceived effects of secondhand smoke so slight that they do not carry any weight at all? Further, it is simply polite to refrain from partaking in activities whose direct, external consequences negatively affect the lives of others. Hopefully an objective third party or a majority of people would deem this harmful.

What is forgotten is that people, in a secure, cultivated community like Middlebury’s, have the implicit claim to live without distraction or harm. There is a reason why FYCs and RAs break up loud parties and enforce quiet hours. It is recognized that a safe, quiet environment conducive to sleep and rest is advantageous for the health of the students. But why is the sense of smell ignored? If a spill of odorous material occurred behind a dorm building, it would be cleaned up immediately. But does the temporary nature of pot and tobacco smoke make it acceptable to implicitly allow it? I believe not. I believe that we have the same claim to clean air as we do to quiet halls, and thus a no-smoking zone around residential buildings should be far more effectively enforced.

I simply want to be able to open my window and breathe in the air without inhaling smoke. I don’t want my lungs to burn when I try to smell the rain and instead get a lungful of polluted air. I want to be able to leave my window open at night and not wake up coughing, brought about by the bitter stench of the joints being passed around.

I simply want the smokers to put their products down, or to walk further away. And if that does not happen, I would like a smoke-free zone around every residential building enforced. It is absurd that this is not the case already, as it is illegal in many states and I believe in Vermont as well. But we need this. I’ve heard students complain. We just want the ability to breathe in clean air when our windows are open.

Artwork by CHARLOTTE FAIRLESS

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