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Davis, California

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Breathe Free: At What Cost?

The Jan. 1 implementation of “Breathe Free UC Davis” carried a certain set of expectations from the University and from its citizens. Based on the pictures displayed on breathefree.ucdavis.edu, it seems the University expects their program to result in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, smoke-free students. That’s not what we predict.

We foresee post-apocalyptic trashcan fires from renegade smokers disposing of their butts in improper receptacles (like the Jan. 7 incident at Segundo Residence Halls) — no more ashtrays under the new policy. We foresee mid-quad confrontations between enforcers and unwilling participants. We foresee sass, snark and narcs. We don’t foresee any peaceful change at this juncture.

We find it important to note that we’re not saying we support smoking — we just don’t support the policy. Breathe Free may have some good intentions, but for the most part it seems oppressive rather than educational, badly-planned, poorly-advertised and unrealistic.

What is the motivation behind this program? The website claims it is “for a healthier community and cleaner environment,” but it seems to be more skewed toward policing others’ rights.

At its core, Breathe Free implies the University wishes to cut out people’s exposure to smoke. Then why are they also banning e-cigarettes? The University outwardly states, in an email from Vice Chancellor John Meyer, that they “hope this policy will provide positive motivation for tobacco users to quit,” a goal based not on encouragement but on control. That isn’t their place.

The control extends past the student body and their bodies — staff and faculty are no exception to the rule, not to mention the hundreds of guests the campus sees every year, what with major events such as Whole Earth Festival, Picnic Day, sports events and graduations.

The no-smoke zone extends to “all indoor and outdoor spaces owned or leased by UC Davis,” as well as “housing buildings and facilities that are rented from the University” (such as the Residence Halls, West Village and the Colleges at La Rue). This means visiting or residential smokers would have to walk, bike or drive any distance across the 8.3 square miles of the largest UC campus for just one puff of a cigarette.

The Breathe Free policy would be much more reasonable if it provided certain concessions, such as providing designated smoking spaces on our (rather large) campus and allowing reasonable alternatives like electronic cigarettes. Although it may be a common occurrence to see students hindered by biking through a cloud of smoke, we’ve never seen anyone at a loss for breath around an e-cig.

Also, the alternatives provided by the University are not sufficient to facilitate a quitting smoker’s needs — “a free two-week supply of nicotine replacement therapy, smoking cessation classes and 24/7 telephone counseling.” Adding physical and psychological withdrawal from cigarettes to students’ already high levels of social and academic stress seems like an unfair burden, and nicotine patches and gum won’t necessarily help you kick your addiction in two weeks or less. Asking students to shell out for these products after the “free trial” is over is impractical — we’re broke college kids who can barely afford to buy textbooks, let alone Nicorette.

The policy’s website also states that “after an initial phase-in period, additional reinforcement measures may be considered.” This indeterminate introduction stage coupled with vague mention of prosecution (that borders on threatening) is uncomfortably cryptic. Based on UC Davis’ history of surprisingly violent enforcement of campus rules, it’s questionable at best that we aren’t told when and how smokers will be penalized.

What will be their punishment? Who will be doling out said discipline? And, on top of packs of patches and gum, what’s this all going to cost us?

According to UC Davis’ Strategic Communications Department, $77,000 has been allocated for the first year of advertising, including brochures, signs, promotional videos and a Great American Smokeout event. Another $15,000 is put aside for any signs and marketing that the University deems necessary in the next year.

And to us, that doesn’t seem worth it. Breathe Free needs more work if UC Davis wants it to work. The University needs to be more lenient, and a little more transparent — if they don’t want our students to be obscured by smoke, their words shouldn’t be either.

Here is the campaign’s communication budget:



  1. Yudof announced this new policy in the wake of the Peppergate scandal. I suspect it had something to do with the administration’s irrational fear that “non-affiliates” were invading UC campuses. This policy would give campus police an excuse to approach non-affiliates who were smoking and pressure them to leave by giving them a citation for smoking.


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