It is still winter here in Abu Dhabi, but the fierce heat is already palpable. Perhaps one of the most affected groups on campus this time of year is student and faculty smokers. As a result of changes to UAE federal law banning smoking in educational institutions in 2009, NYU Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat campus always been smoke-free. While there had been some controversy around the implementation of the ban, the issue has not been publicly addressed since.
It is obvious that NYUAD’s administration does not want its students and faculty to smoke. They make that perfectly clear. Consider, for instance, the markings on the ash bins by the sidewalk just beyond the legal parameter of campus. The signs show a big red sign crossing out a lit cigarette. Is it necessary to send such a negative message to the community? Think about it: what if a similar sign were placed on all the takeaway boxes in the dining hall, saying that plastic containers shouldn’t be used because they cause severe environmental damage? It would create confusion, at best, about whether the boxes should be used after all. At worst, it would unnecessarily make people feel guilty for using the plates even though NYUAD supplies them, just like it supplies ash bins for smokers. Everyone knows that smoking is an unhealthy habit, but it is not the administration’s job to chastise adult smokers for their choices with passive aggressive signage.
The biggest issue smokers face is that those ash bins are placed in direct sunlight. In fact, smoking is technically allowed only on the sidewalk and beyond, which doesn’t provide any shade or allow for comforts like benches. With the coming heat, going out on the sidewalk can be excruciatingly unpleasant. The area commonly called the benches behind A6 has been a favourite spot for smokers, but a security guard will promptly ask you to step to the edge of the street if you are seen smoking on the camera. Not to mention that said ash bins are not placed in front of the Welcome Center. This is probably to discourage such activities at the entrance of the university, but only results in piles of cigarette butts being thrown on the ground. This practice not only works against the university’s image of cleanliness but also makes the living conditions of its residents dirty and unpleasant. I am not advocating for the university to support smokers — I am merely suggesting that there could be small improvements made to the smoking facilities on campus.
One point that Adam Ramey brought up in a Gazelle article from 2014
is that even with a ban, smokers will keep smoking. He explains that “it is common knowledge that a large chunk of the student body and a sizeable minority of faculty and staff smoke.” Our campus is situated on a secluded island and it is hard to go out and enjoy a cigarette in a café away from campus. As a result, NYUAD ought to provide a reasonable alternative for smokers. One potential solution is to build designated smoking areas equipped with benches and shade. If the UAE law is a concern, these areas could be built at the edges of campus, near the dog park on the East side and opposite the Sushi Counter on the West side. These locations have plenty of free space and they would technically be across from the sidewalk, where smoking is legally allowed.
Another point to consider is the fact that we not only work and study at NYUAD, but it is also our home. The tension between home and university creates a lot of grey areas surrounding the UAE law banning smoking within the bounds of educational institutions. Ramey points out that “banning smoking indoors or on the ground level is certainly within the limits of the law, but is banning it on the high line or in faculty accommodations truly necessary?”
I would argue that smoking shouldn’t be allowed everywhere on campus to accommodate smokers, but there could certainly be designated areas, perhaps in front of B1 and B2, where smokers could enjoy a cigarette without affecting others.
If you aren’t a smoker, it is easy to dismiss this article by saying that smoking is a choice, so people should bare the burden of their actions. However, in an institution like ours, a university where the majority of the students and all of the faculty are adults, smokers should have just as many rights as non-smokers to engage in the activities of their choice. It is much easier for NYUAD’s administration to cite the UAE law and tell the community that it has provided reasonable conditions, but the fact of the matter is that smokers are put at an unfair disadvantage. The administration should ask themselves, What is our attitude towards our community? At the moment, smokers are feeling neglected.
Martin V. is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.