There is a culture war at USyd. Our proud declaration that we are a ‘smoke-free campus’ is a controversial one for many students, and they are taking to social media to openly flout the rules in disgraceful displays that glamourise a harmful hobby.
I came to USyd thinking that the lack of smoking was a great idea. Growing up in the 2000s, it felt like anti-smoking ads were everywhere. Deliberately off-putting images of wrinkled, diseased older people croaking words of warning scared me into submission. For me, not smoking has always seemed like a no-brainer, but it seems that many of my fellow students do not share the same concerns.
In my lifetime I always assumed there would be a general trend away from smoking. Unfortunately, the miracle of capitalist dynamism has dashed my expectations. The introduction of e-cigarettes, to the marketplace, and the branding of them as a “healthier alternative” by the same brains behind big tobacco, has seen a general trend upwards in smoking.
It’s obvious why. Cigarettes stink! All the packaging is covered in grotesque depictions of gangrene and cancer! But vapes? Cute, trendy, pastel! They smell and taste like yummy sugar! No way they’re as harmful as stinky ciggies! Aside from the fact that vaping looks kind of dorky and silly (while smoking is obviously cool as hell), it seems like the best alternative to cigarettes.
What a disaster!
Taking up vaping, to the average teen, seems like all the social benefits of nicotine consumption, with none of the yucky lungs we saw in TV ads. How wrong they are! There is almost no evidence to say vaping is better than smoking – it still affects you negatively, just in different ways. It’s also true that vaping is the gateway drug of our time, with an ANU study finding those who try vaping are three times more likely to smoke later on. It’s no surprise, then, that in 2020, cigarette sales increased for the first time in decades.
At the forefront of pro-smoking insurrection is the Instagram account ‘@smokersofusyd’. This is a page dedicated to trivialising the smoke-free campus rule. So far, only four photos have been posted on the account, but each has been met with support from members of the student body, calling for a more smoker-friendly campus. I’ve previously been very vocal in their comments section about how much I disagree with their ethos, but I seem to be screaming into the void. I sat down with ‘Smokers of USyd’ [a pseudonym] to squash the beef.
Hello Smokers. Can I call you Smokers?
Smokers of USyd: I guess that’s fine.
Great. Are you yourself a smoker of USyd?
Smokers: I believe everyone is a smoker. Smoking isn’t simply about the consumption of cigarettes or the sipping of vapes. To be a smoker is to be human. So yes!
Whatever. What are you trying to prove through the page?
Smokers: I believe that some USyd campus policies are detrimental to the wellbeing of smokers on campus. USyd’s ‘smoke free campus’ policy pushes smokers into the gutters of society and paints them as grotesque outcasts – which we are not. Believe it or not, smoking can be addictive, and as such, smokers cannot at all be blamed for increased smog on campus. We need collective action to bring the oppressed class of smokers out of the gutter and make USyd a smoker friendly campus again. Our current smoking areas can barely be labelled as glorified sandpits, and ultimately need to be demolished as society works to integrate smoking into all areas of campus – including indoor spaces.
Where do you see Smokers of USyd in the future?
Smokers: I hope that one day all students can learn the pleasures of the simple and social pastime of smoking. While the current page is vapist friendly, I would like to use this piece as a platform to send a health message to anyone who vapes. Please vapists, there is a plant based organic alternative that you should all switch to: cigarettes!
Do you think your page promotes harmful behaviour?
Smokers: The only thing the page is promoting is the inclusivity of the smoking class. Far from promoting harmful behaviour, the page is a beacon of hope and a guiding star for smokers who might feel excluded from social settings because they are forced to slurp their cigarettes in the freezing outdoors or the crevices of pubs. I am here to encourage the population of USyd to partake in this relaxing hobby with the knowledge that you are welcomed and you are a human being.
Are you aware that in Australia alone, about 90% of lung cancer cases in males and 65% in females are estimated to be a result of tobacco smoking?
When? This is happening right now!
Smokers: When did I ask?
That’s really inappropriate. Can you please answer the question seriously?
Thus ended our interview. We walked to City Road together before parting ways. I stood watching them walk away, reflecting on our talk and what I could have done differently; kicking myself for not making more of an impact. Before long, they disappeared mysteriously behind a cloud of exhaust fumes from a passing bus. It was a fitting conclusion to a whole-heartedly disappointing chat.
I can’t claim to understand the sentiment behind the page. The rules are clear: smoking is not allowed on campus. Not all laws are just, but this one is. Our keen young minds deserve clean air! Campus should be a safe space for people with sensitive lungs, and those of us who have made the sensible decision not to smoke. @smokersofusyd does nothing but promote an unhealthy lifestyle. They are a blight on our beautiful campus. The pro-smoking propaganda they publish is disgusting and only inflames my anti-smoking sentiments. I hope more people will join my crusade.
Students should be enriching their minds, not engaging in harmful pastimes. Keep smoking off campus.