Starting on Jan. 19, smoking will be prohibited within 20 feet of any building owned or leased by MU. It’s the first phase of a new smoking policy that aims to make the campus completely smoke-free by 2014.
It’s understandable where MU is coming from. Using tobacco is not healthy. It can cause lung cancer, heart disease, raise your blood pressure and increase the tendency to develop clots. And cigarette butts attribute to a fair amount of littering. I spent two summers as a lifeguard at Oceans of Fun and picked up hundreds of cigarette butts off the ground.
People agree that smoking is bad, but people are going to keep doing it. We know more about the harmful effects of tobacco use, yet there are still 45 million people who smoke in this country.
Smoking is detrimental to the health of the user and to the people surrounding the user. Over the years, there has been a slow eradication of publicly available areas for people to smoke. Smoking on public school grounds was prohibited. Smoking sections in restaurants were removed. Bars became smoke-free. Now, smokers cannot stand within 20 feet of a building.
Instead of pushing for ways to help people stop smoking, we’re simply creating very large areas that are off-limits to them. Reducing the area where non-smokers are exposed to smoke is helpful, but that means all those smokers are now lumped together. Does this help the smokers who wish to quit but were never able to get over that first hurdle?
MU has thought of ways to help those who cannot quit. The Atkins Wellness Program will work with MU to help provide programs to help employees stop smoking. The MU Wellness Resource Center will be doing the equivalent for students. MU Health Care will also be helping by increasing the coverage of prescription drugs used to help stop smoking.
Decreasing the amount of smoking in this country will help to decrease several health concerns. But let's not forget about another health concern. Both Columbia and MU have spent time and money on combating smoking, and Columbia is doing its best to combat obesity as well. PedNet has been working hard to make Columbia an active and healthy community through programs like Bike, Walk and Wheel Week and Way to Go to Work month. Another program that has become quite successful is the Walking School Bus, where kids are walked to school through safe routes to promote health and exercise at an early age.
It’s pretty obvious that we have an obesity problem in this country. People are eating more and becoming less active. People opt to drive instead of walk to the grocery store. People choose the easy meal at McDonald's instead of a healthier meal they could have prepared at home. Overweight children have the arteries of 40-year-olds. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and the world, yet a ban on fast food has yet to be seen.
We live in what’s called a toxic food environment. It is, according to Kelly D. Brownell, a Yale professor and author of “Food Fight: The Inside Story of the Food Industry,” an environment that has “unparalleled exposure to high-calorie, high-fat, heavily marketed, inexpensive, and readily accessible foods.”
When I get off work, I’m hungry. What’s the first place I see as I’m driving out of the mall parking lot on my way to Stadium Boulevard? McDonald's. It’s so bad for me, but it’s always right there, and I have a hard time saying no. I remember being a child, asking my mother if we could go to McDonald's after running errands. It’s hard to escape from fast food, it’s so embedded in our culture and environment.
That’s where “toxic food environment” comes from. The Institute of Medicine stated in 1995 that the human gene pool has not undergone any real change for the past couple of decades. This means that obesity, which has increased significantly recently, is not primarily genetic. Instead, it is environmental. It is both our society and culture that have caused this health concern. Our portions are huge, our food is unhealthy, and there is a lack of physical activity in our country.
Obesity causes high blood pressure. It is linked to 90 percent of Type 2 diabetes cases. It causes heart disease, joint problems, sleep apnea and cancer. It is just as large of a health concern as smoking, if not more so. It is important to decrease the instances of both if we are looking to improve the health of our country. Making MU’s campus completely smoke-free is a healthy choice to make, but what about removing the fast food from Lowery Mall and Brady Commons? If MU wants to make its students healthier, why not also work through the food it provides to them as well? And then there’s the Recreation Center. All of the students have to pay for it, but do that many really use it?
An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure. MU is making small steps in promoting a healthier lifestyle through its smoking ban. Stopping smoking is one aspect to a healthier lifestyle. If MU wants to make the life of its students more beneficial and healthier, then it needs to change the food it provides to its students. Provide healthier options, get rid of the fast food on campus, and promote more active lifestyle. The smoking ban may make some students healthier, but MU still has a long way to go.
Lauren Titterington was a reporter for the Columbia Missourian on the Muse beat in the summer of 2008.