The recent smoking ban on NYU Abu Dhabi's new Saadiyat Island campus has been the source of much debate and consternation. After being approached by students, faculty and staff, I felt compelled to pen a few words on the matter. I write not as a professor, but as a casual observer and a pragmatist. I am not a daily smoker either — though I enjoy a cigar or shisha from time to time.
On balance, my opinion of the smoking policy is quite negative. While I respect the rights of non-smokers to live in peace and the UAE's right to create policies that it deems are in the public interest, there are many issues with NYUAD's implementation that I find troubling.
First, while the UAE federal law from 2009 bans smoking in educational institutions, as far as I can tell, it says nothing about residential units within academic institutions. That's likely because — again, to the best of my knowledge — NYUAD is the only local school with on-campus housing for faculty and staff. 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 think not. Much worse, there are many other UAE laws and statutes for which NYUAD has either explicit or implicit exemptions. For example, our campus internet is completely unfiltered. Alcohol at restaurants is prohibited outside of hotels, but our faculty club, the Torch Club in D2, will have a bar. It seems odd to me that we fight for exemptions in one realm but not another.
While one may retort that smoking is universally abhorred as detrimental to health, whereas moderate drinking is actually beneficial health-wise, I would say it is rash to jump to conclusions too quickly. While smoking is positively associated with the incidence of lung cancer, a recent paper gathering evidence from multiple studies found that smokers are, on average, about 50% less likely than non smokers to develop both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's (Fratiglioni and Wang 2000). Thus, claims about cigarette smoking's negative impact on health outcomes is, at best, a mixed bag.
Second, on a practical level, even if the smoking ban is here to stay, smokers are going to smoke anyway. It is common knowledge that a large chunk of the student body and a sizable minority of faculty and staff smoke. Unlike at Sama, we are isolated here at Saadiyat. We can't just walk down the street to a nearby cafe to smoke. It's not feasible. If there were reasonable local alternatives, then the smoking policy would be perhaps more acceptable.
Third, since people are going to smoke anyway, it's irresponsible to not have somewhere to throw away used cigarette butts. Even airplanes, where smoking is banned and hefty fines are attached, have ashtrays. The airlines recognize that if individuals are going to smoke, it's better to have them dispose of the butts responsibly. NYUAD could ban smoking and still have receptacles for used butts. Those two things are not incompatible.
Last, there is a problem with the smoking policy document itself which can be found on NYU’s Intranet
. It encourages faculty, staff and students to rat each other out. This is not the best way to go about enforcing the policy. It creates a hostile atmosphere, with smokers looking around their backs and wondering who they can trust.
I hope that the leadership will be willing to work with our Abu Dhabi partners to iron out a sensible solution. At a minimum, receptacles for used cigarette butts should be placed around campus, even if the ban remains in effect. However, my hope is that the university will reconsider smoking on the high line. To me, this is a solution that is in keeping with Abu Dhabi's law banning smoking on educational premises, but respects the fact that we also live on campus. Even a designated smoking area on the high line would be preferable to the current regime.
Irrespective of the final outcome, I find it necessary for the entire university community to engage in a frank conversation on this subject — without emotional pleas. It is not as cut and dry as one might think.
Adam Ramey is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.