UC’s smoking ban violates student liberties
Published: Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 23:02
To take effect in 2014, the 10 campuses of the University of California (UC) have put forth a proposal to ban the sale and consumption of all tobacco products. The ban is likely to gain many headlines and put UC in the good books of some anti-smoking campaigners, government health officials and parental advocacy groups.
Despite these immediate positive consequences, two benefits this ban will have in the long run seems questionable.
In a public statement, the President of UC, Mark Yudof, declared, "As a national leader in health care and environmental practices, the University of California is ready to demonstrate leadership in reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke by creating a smoke-free environment on all of our campuses."
It is important to note that UC is taking a measure that has not been considered by the federal government. If deterring people from tobacco usage is so simple and necessary, surely the government would be making this habit illegal. However, the government cannot do so because, first and foremost, people have a degree of free will in our society.
Also, if one looks at the matter cynically, one must consider that the government makes huge amounts of revenue from the tax it imposes on tobacco.
Drawing a comparison between the use of tobacco and the use of alcohol is important in considering this ban. Both have equally harmful health effects for those using the product and for those in the surrounding area. And, one could even argue that surrounding drunkards are, in fact, more dangerous than passive smokers. If UC truly has its students' best interests in mind, then a uniform stance toward all legal drugs is the only way it could gain any credibility.
Perhaps the huge revenues UC gets from its on-campus bars are also worth noting. This revenue does not compare to that of tobacco sales on campus, as only 12 percent of students (over 7 percent lower than the state average) smoke.
So, if the government does not impose this ban on a federal level, why should UC do so? By taking a stance that the government has not, UC is implicitly suggesting that it knows better. By imposing a complete ban of tobacco across all its campuses, UC is showing that it believes itself to have some moral authority on the matter, above the law. There are no concrete reasons in UC's justification for this sense of superiority over state and federal law.
There is a huge difference between limiting the areas people can smoke in, placing high taxes on tobacco sales and supporting anti-smoking campaigns versus outright criminalizing tobacco. The government is right in not encouraging (nor actively discouraging) the harmful activity by recognizing that ultimately, the choice belongs to the individual. As with alcohol, if a person is aware of the harmful effects of smoking, he or she still can, and should, have the choice (or as much of a choice as there is for an addict) to smoke. Although one might judge them to be irresponsible—or even downright stupid—that judgment cannot define policy. The choice to purchase and consume tobacco is an individual choice that should not be taken from the smoker altogether.
UC's primary reason for the ban is to encourage student safety. While this is a sound cause, it is completely undermined by the fact that not only is smoking tobacco being banned, but chewing it is prohibited as well. Granted, chewing tobacco is extremely harmful to the chewer, but the previous argument can be used here as well: no matter what one thinks of a tobacco chewer, his or her freedom to purchase the product should not be taken away.
Adopting the measure to prohibit tobacco chewing will not protect other students: when was the last time you felt your health was at any real risk by standing close to a tobacco chewer? Sadly, this highlights the true motives behind this ban: a frankly quite cheap attempt to gain easy support from parents, the general public and possibly those in charge of UC's budget for next year. While this may seem like an overly pessimistic standpoint, the fact that UC is not going to implement the ban for two years supports this point. The reason given for this delay is that UC needs time to "prepare" for the ban. What is UC preparing? Apart from perhaps removing some cigarette-end bins (and it's doubtful whether that's even essential), what else is there to "prepare"? UC was suspiciously quiet on this matter.
As mentioned earlier, students today know something about the potential dangerous side effects of smoking, at least those attending a university like UC. From compulsory education about the habit in schools to the anti-smoking advertisements on cigarettes themselves, the dangers of smoking are generally known in our society. There is already a stigma around smoking and those who smoke are aware that, oftentimes, they are being judged by their peers for doing so—though this judgement could certainly work the other way, in terms of peer pressure encouraging others to smoke. Nonetheless, the issue lies in segregating smokers and, as a consequence, deepening the division between smokers and non-smokers.
Ultimately, all this ban is going to achieve is more division between the two groups, as the smokers trek to the edge of campus multiple times a day. While UC argues that it is precisely this trek that will deter smokers from smoking, this type of reasoning blatantly ignores the fact that choosing to quit smoking is a personal—and complicated—decision. Being segregated to a specific location on-campus will have little impact on this decision. Most likely, this measure will only make smokers feel ostracized from university life, rejected by the very society they came to college to be a part of.