What Are They Smoking?

On July 1 the University of Arkansas will become one of the first major universities to ban the use of all tobacco products on campus property.  This is not a smoking ban, it is a ban on all tobacco, including chewing tobacco.  And this is not just a ban on smoking inside buildings or within 25 feet of entrance-ways, which is already prohibited, it is a ban on using tobacco anywhere on campus by anyone.

The University has not specified the exact reason for the ban, but it cannot be to prevent second-hand smoking problems.  By including chewing tobacco, from which there can be no second-hand harm, it is clear that the motivation for the ban is to benefit the health of the users of tobacco themselves by pushing them to quit.

Forcing students, staff, and visitors to our campus to improve their health seems beyond the reasonable authority of the University.  What’s next?  How about banning people from bringing fast food on campus?  How about intentionally scheduling classes on opposite sides of campus to force people to walk more?

I see no problem with the University banning smoking inside or near buildings that may harm or seriously bother others.  And I see no problem with educating students and staff about the health hazards of smoking.  But the University also has a responsibility to respect and instill within students an appreciation for liberty.  To do that they have to allow people to make life choices for themselves, especially when those choices pose no direct harm to others.

There is a University web forum in which these issues have started to be discussed.

On July 1 it will be the University of Arkansas, but soon it may be at a campus near you.  As the University press release says, “people from several colleges across the nation have called university officials to get information about how they might create a similar policy on their campuses, and to find out what kinds of issues could arise when making this kind of policy decision.”

6 Responses to What Are They Smoking?

  1. sportsone234 says:

    What are they smoking is a good question. Can the PC police and all those trying to monitor and control every aspect of our lives JUST LEAVE US ALONE!

    If an adult wants to smoke knowing the dangers, so be it. Let the university set aside smoking areas.

    What the frig is next? I can’t stand it.

  2. Greg Forster says:

    I don’t know, Jay – the campus is the university’s property, and they have a right to do what they want with their property, don’t they?

    I’ll admit that this is somewhat complicated because the university is a public institution; government-sponsored enterprises don’t have the same autonomy to do what they want with their property as private enterprises. For example, the university couldn’t discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion the way a church-sponsored university can.

    But there have to be limits to that, don’t there? The university has to have some scope to be a university, rather than just a government bureau. Students and faculty at a public university are not the same as, say, people who walk into the DMV to get their licenses renewed. They’re not entitled to the same sort of perfect neutrality in the way they’re treated. For example, the DMV doesn’t care how you feel about cars, but it is part of the mission of a university to instill love and respect for learning.

    I’ll also agree that a love of liberty ought to be one of the values a university should care about and try to instill. But the moral dignity of the individual is another value a university should care about and try to instill. Indeed, the moral dignity of the individual is the only reasonable basis for liberty. In other words, your argument about liberty concedes that character formation is part of the university’s mission. If so, then the job of inculcating a love of liberty must coexist with the job of inculcating other virtues.

    Tobacco use is ingesting poison for pleasure. That is not consistent with the moral dignity of the individual. People should be free to do it on their own property (that’s the liberty part) but it’s still wrong (that’s the moral dignity part) and because it’s wrong I’m not worried that the university is banning it on what is, after all, the university’s property.

    Of course, the university is rightly subject to a charge of hypocrisy if it works to instill the virtue of self-respect with regard to tobacco use, but neglects the other virtues (courage, generosity, justice, prudence, self-control, chastity, love of country, etc.). On the other hand, perhaps tobacco use is the thin end of the wedge for getting universities back into the business of character formation. As George Will once remarked, colleges stopped exercising “in loco parentis” at about the same time parents did. Society can’t survive without character formation, so it’s really only a matter of time before we rebuild that infrastructure. Maybe this is how it starts.

    I strongly support the legal right to smoke. When smoking bans that apply to private property, such as restraurants, are on the ballot, I vote against them (as you know, Jay, from the time this came up in Florida). But poisoning your body for pleasure is also wrong, and while I don’t want to use the law to stop people from doing it, I’m not sorry to see property owners banning it on their property.

  3. matthewladner says:

    “I have a deep-seated belief that America is unique, strong, great because of a commitment to personal freedom-in our economic system and our politics. We are a free people who consented to be governed. Not vice-versa.”

    P.J. O’Rourke quoting Senator John Sununu in The Weekly Standard, June 16,2008

    That needs to be media blitzed everywhere, repeatedly…..

    posted by not matthewladner, just at his computor

  4. Greg is right that universities can restrict what happens on their property and he is right that public universities are not completely handcuffed in their ability to impose these restrictions.

    But being public does place great limits on how narrowly the institution can define virtue and how strongly it can impose it. It is still public property supported with tax dollars. If it is inappropriate for the state to ban smoking on private property out of respect for liberty, it’s not clear that the state university should not be similary constrained.

    Sure, the public university is not the same as the DMV in that they do not both have an obligation to inculcate a positive value (such as love of cars vs. love of learning), but they both probably have similar constraints on their ability to impose virtue. The DMV can’t impose that we drive hybrids, for example.

    Universities may be interested in developing character and developing character may involve restricting behavior. But public universities are limited in both their ability to restrict behavior and develop character precisely because they are extensions of the state.

  5. Greg Forster says:

    Jay, I wholeheartedly agree with the first three words of your comment.


  6. Brian Kisida says:

    I am having a hard time wrapping my head around Greg’s portrayal of the University of Arkansas as a “property owner.” It is a public institution supported by tax dollars that should adhere to the same concept of neutrality as the DMV. If a person wants to receive some specific “character formation” as Greg puts it, they are free to choose a private university that offers such services.

    Additionally, those who wish to form the characters of adults who attend a state university are more than welcome to visit campuses and speak in a public forum, hold assemblies, and distribute information. People do this on the UA campus all of the time.

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