College bans on smoking, food and plastic have students talking turkey
This month, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg passed a ban on sugary drinks of more than 16 ounces sold by restaurants, movie theaters and street carts in an attempt to help reduce obesity rates.
While the NYC ban is the first of its kind in the nation, several colleges are implementing similar bans in order to promote healthy living and environmental awareness.
But telling college students there will be limits to buying things they were able to purchase a short time ago brings a unique set of challenges to campus administrators.
As of July 2012, at least 774 colleges or universities in the U.S. have implemented 100 percent smoke-free campus policies that eliminate lighting up in both outdoor and indoor areas, according to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.
Effective this month, The City University of New York’s (CUNY) 23 campuses across the city have to follow a new policy that expands the university’s ban on smoking indoors and in vehicles to include all outdoor grounds.
“As the nation’s largest urban public university, as a source of thousands of health-profession graduates and as the home of the new CUNY School of Public Health, CUNY has an opportunity — and a responsibility — to set appropriate standards as an example for universities seeking to protect the health of their students and employees,” said CUNY board Chairperson Benno Schmidt and Chancellor Matthew Goldstein in a joint statement.
But not all students agree with someone else setting a standard in order to protect students from an “unhealthy” choice.
Carlos Alfaro, of Arizona State University and executive board member of Students for Liberty, organized a protest last spring in opposition to his school’s smoking ban. Alfaro and his group laid out three tables: one with anti-smoking pamphlets and fruits and vegetables, another with free donuts, junk food and cigarettes and one with a sign that read, “It should be your choice. Stop the Nanny State.”
“Whether they think it’s wrong or right, a law in a public place can’t dictate to people how to live their lives,” said Alfaro.
“They are trying to legislate their own moral code on others and trying to enforce a ban to tell students how they want them to live, and, if they don’t do that, they’re going to fine them.”
David Deerson, senior at the University of North Carolina and also an executive member of Students for Liberty, tells FNCU that bans restrictive of anything that doesn’t cause direct harm to anyone else is wrong.
“It not only affects the person, but you’re also not allowing people to experiment with different things and different lifestyles. It’s not allowing students to fully appreciate young adulthood and their own learning experiences.”
In an effort to reduce the amount of plastic water bottles used by students, many schools have begun to scratch using college funds to purchase the bottles.
The College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota was the first college in the state to implement such a ban. Judy Purman, director of the school’s Office of Sustainability, said, “We believe that water access is a basic human right. We do not want to profit from the sale of something we consider a basic human right.”
Purman, however, clarifies that students are still left with the option to bring their own water bottles, and says that, overall, the students’ reactions have been very positive, with students carrying out only one protest.
The ban on water bottles did not come as a shock to students because the school devoted an entire academic year to educating the students about it and during that time installed hydration stations throughout campus.
The University of Vermont also has recently taken up a similar change in policy, which seems to not only help students protect the environment, but helps protect their wallets as well.
Gioia Thompson, director of the University of Vermont’s Office of Sustainability, says, “Incoming students quickly see that everyone's filling up water bottles rather than spending money on disposable plastic bottles of water.”
According to Thompson, the long-term goal is to provide healthy choices, reduce expenses for students and cut back on waste and the cost of handling that waste.
In early August, Paul Quinn College -- a small college in Dallas, Texas, drew lots of attention when it instituted a pork ban.
“Eating pork can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, sodium retention and heart problems, not to mention weight gain and obesity. Therefore, as a part of our continued effort to improve the lives and health of our students, Paul Quinn College and its food service partner Perkins Management have collaborated to create a pork-free cafeteria” said college President Michael J. Sorrell in a statement.
Dr. Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, thinks that banning certain food items has the potential to alter a student’s eating habits long-term. She says, “If it’s not here, they won’t eat it -- too much trouble.”
Nestle also mentions what she feels works in a practical sense. “We know that education is not enough, by itself. The food environment must facilitate -- not undermine -- healthy choices.”
Rachel Warner, director of communications and marketing at the National Association of College and University Food Services, says that each college or university is different in regards to how it provides food and services to its students. “A lot of universities have dietitians working to provide increasingly healthy options. Some universities do more with menu labeling and others make different choices of their own,” she says.
While Warner believes that bans on specific food menu items will not trend throughout the county, she feels that colleges and universities will continue to work on expanding their menus to provide more healthy and diverse foods to cater to their students’ demands.
Christina Gonzalez, psychology major at CUNY Queens College in New York, says, “How can you tell someone what they can and cannot eat? They might as well just ban all unhealthy food in general. Instead of banning food, they should introduce different healthy foods and let the students choose what they want.”
Gonzalez says that if a ban were implemented at her school, she would simply look elsewhere to purchase the item.
“If certain people think it’s unhealthy, then they shouldn't eat it -- but don't make everyone else follow your rule just because it’s something you believe. I believe that sounds similar to taking away someone’s freedom.”