Keeping Up Appearances

Animation by Megan Eloise/The Gazelle Adam Ramey’s article has already discussed some issues regarding the NYU Abu Dhabi no-smoking policy and brought ...

Sep 20, 2014

Adam Ramey’s article has already discussed some issues regarding the NYU Abu Dhabi no-smoking policy and brought up questions regarding the separation of academic and residential spaces on Saadiyat campus. Even though the two are physically and functionally set apart, the same rules and regulations apply to both, including the smoking ban.
I smoke. I am a smoker. I am not ashamed of it because I do not think it is a shameful thing. Due to the increasing medicalization of society, the representations of smoking have shifted from being seen as a choice and a cultural practice to an unsavory vice that plagues communities. Labelling all smokers as addicts is the first step towards discrediting them as equal citizens and portraying them as a diseased part of our society. After the smoking-cessation industry started to thrive, with treatments ranging from counseling to therapy and medication, mechanisms to increase the stigma were set in place: smokers came to be seen as a plague and ostracized from a society governed by an ideology of healthism. In essence the smoking ban is about keeping up appearances.
I, for one, feel a little cheated. Having grown up in a Central European country where indoor smoking was not regulated, I find it incomprehensible that even smoking outdoors is no longer permitted. I can no longer read or write or drink coffee and smoke at the same time. I have to leave the campus and isolate myself from the community.
The students who smoke, outlawed from the NYUAD campus, take refuge at the outermost edges behind the dining halls and in another area closer to the main entrance, beyond the traffic posts separating the campus from the surrounding road. The latter provides a small patch of shade, a blessing in an environment where daily temperatures rise above 40 degrees Celsius and humidity levels exceed 80%. After a week of undisturbed and undisruptive smoking in exile, the security guards — the nicest security guards I have had the pleasure of meeting — were instructed to drive us out. One of them inadvertently shed light on the reason: People are entering the campus here, they explained, so they don’t want you to smoke. Discursively and ideologically, the university wants to push the smokers out: to the margins of the campus as well as society. Out of sight; out of mind.
I fear this is part of a larger project of clearing our community of troublesome elements with new policies and regulations. “We're doing it to protect you” is a motto of every government asking its citizens to give up their rights and freedoms in exchange for safety or protection and it has also become the university’s mantra this year. Tightened security, patrolling Resident Advisors armed with walkie-talkies and hundreds and hundreds of surveillance cameras. Banksy’s “One nation under CCTV” comes to mind, if not a certain big brother monitoring our every move. I also suspect the patrols have little to do with keeping the furniture in the lounges, a reason behind the Residential Assistant patrolling duty given inan article on new residence policies. As our campus grows, these measures may be justified but on the presently isolated island these new policies seem extreme. Students are now terrified of hearing knocks on their doors and getting reported without warning for noise violations. In Sama Tower, I felt protected. On Saadiyat, I feel policed.
Even our free time is supervised; RA guards quickly break up spontaneous social gatherings in rooms while the university invents comical positions like Chief Mischief Officer to effectively organize our “fun.”
The backlash against smoking also curtails its social dimension. Shisha is a significant part of our host country’s dominant culture and a popular leisure activity. With few exceptions, my closest friends belong to the same smoker’s circle that used to meet regularly in front of Sama last year. Even this year, with students displaced throughout the large campus, smokers began congregating and socializing wherever they can and non-smokers join us regularly.
Smoking nowadays is an individual’s informed and autonomous decision. While raising awareness of the health effects is essential, shunning people for their lifestyle choices is not. Smokers on Saadiyat find ourselves surrounded by judgmental looks, pressured to change our way of life by Public Service Announcements reminding us that NYUAD is a smoke-free campus while in the same breath offering advice on smoking cessation. I applaud the Health and Wellness Center and other departments for their efforts and the help provided to those who wish to quit but for many of us smoking is a part of our life that we accept, not a disease that needs to be cured nor a habit we want to break.
Grega Ulen is a contributing writer. Email him at 
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