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Dec 11, 2014

OP-ED: The good and bad of a tobacco-free UT

UT will become a tobacco-free campus Thursday, a move that will unnecessarily restrict some freedoms, while restricting others for the better.

UT will officially become a tobacco-free campus Thursday, eliminating the 15 designated temporary tobacco-use areas around campus that have been in place since the initiation of the tobacco-free campus policy on April 9.

The enactment of tobacco bans is not a clear-cut, black and white issue.

I strongly believe that private institutions should have the right to decide for themselves whether or not people should be allowed to smoke on their property because people are free to choose for themselves whether or not they go to privately owned places.

UT, however, is a public institution, which is an entirely different issue.

Smoking, as I think we all know, is very unhealthy.

While tobacco use in the U.S. has declined in recent decades, it still remains the number one cause of avoidable death and serious disease, according to Dr. William Sage, vice provost for health affairs.

But, the negative health effects of smoking are by no means a good reason for banning tobacco use on campus. After all, I love junk food and soft drinks and I’m very aware that they’re not very nutritious. I could never tolerate a campus (or city or state or country) with laws that banned my enjoyment of such unhealthy pleasures.

To be clear, the government’s role should never be to protect us from ourselves – if I’m not responsible enough to make my own choices regarding my health, how could I possibly be responsible enough to vote in our democracy?

There’s a difference with public smoking bans though.

People have a choice of whether or not to smoke, but people don’t have a choice of whether or not to breathe. Non-smokers cannot avoid secondhand smoke.

According to the 2010 Surgeon General’s Report, there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke, even exposure to secondhand smoke.

What justifies a public smoking ban is not that smoking is unhealthy to the consumer; the bans are justifiable because smoking is unhealthy for bystanders who do not have a choice of whether or not to inhale the fumes.

For example, I cringe every time that I have to pass the temporary smoking section on Inner Campus Drive next to Batts Hall, as it’s nearly impossible to avoid the obnoxious (and harmful) scent of tobacco smoke without going completely out of my way.

While the campus-wide smoking ban is well-founded, the ban on all tobacco use is unwarranted.

Smokeless tobacco, like chewing tobacco, does not intrude on other people in the way that smoking does, despite how unhealthy (and unappealing) it may be.

Forbidding the use of smokeless tobacco, while still allowing the indulgence of countless other unhealthy habits, is a hypocritical and unreasonable policy.

Banning smokeless tobacco could open the door to a slippery slope that would actually lead to banning other harmful pleasures like junk food. Of course, banning smokeless tobacco on campus won’t put us in Nineteen Eighty-Four; still, it’s a step that I’m not willing to endorse.

While banning smoking on campus is positive for many principled reasons, an overwhelming pragmatic benefit especially supports the policy.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) heavily influenced the policy and the school was wise to accept their influence.

The CPRIT stated that its future research funding would only be connected to tobacco-free policies. The CPRIT already gives UT around $30 million in research grants annually and UT may apply for an additional $80 million annually in future grants.

This amount of funding is further vindication for a policy that already had a very strong rationale.

Regardless of your personal views on tobacco use, UT’s tobacco-free campus policy benefits everyone by lowering the damages of smoking, eliminating the harm of secondhand smoke and providing the university with more research funding.

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