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Don’t ban smoking — move stations elsewhere

By Dean Stansel, Ph.D.

Two days from now, on Friday, Nov. 15 at their 9:30 a.m. meeting in Cohen Center 213, the Faculty Senate will vote on a proposal that states “tobacco products —including smoking and smokefree tobacco — should be banned on the FGCU campus.”

College professors are often stereotyped as having political views that are more closely aligned with the Democratic Party compared to the general population. Democrats have always tended to support civil liberties, i.e. personal freedoms, so you might think that faculty members everywhere would be solidly against this proposal. However, last week’s article (“Lights out: Faculty senate proposes smoking ban on campus,” Nov. 6) reported that “Seventy-three percent of the faculty that responded supported a smoke-free campus.”

Where are all the civil libertarians? As a libertarian, I believe this proposal is a terrible idea and should be voted down by my colleagues on the Faculty Senate on Friday. Here are nine reasons why:

1) It represents a blatant violation of the freedoms of the students and employees of this University.

2) A similar, more detailed proposal the Faculty Senate considered in 2010 stated that the current policy banning smoking in all but a few outside places “may be impossible to enforce.” The implication seems to be that banning it everywhere will somehow be easier to enforce. I believe that it would be even harder to enforce, especially in the case of smokeless tobacco.

3) There are no spillover effects on innocent bystanders whatsoever from the use of smokeless tobacco products. Banning the usage of these products is completely indefensible.

4) Penalizing citizens for consuming a legal product is difficult to justify. However, absent such penalties, enforcing the policy would be very difficult, if not impossible. The 2010 proposal contained no such provision for penalties.

5) Eliminating all smoking areas and ash trays will likely result in an even more “voluminous trail of cigarette butts” than the one the 2010 proposal mentioned already exists. That would serve to worsen the negative environmental impact that the proposal lists as a reason for the ban.

6) Since this policy will affect far more students and other employees than faculty, those other parties ought to have substantial input, perhaps more input than the Faculty Senate.

7) The 2010 proposal noted that “smokers cost the country $96 billion a year in direct health care costs.” That is a fallacy. “The country” doesn’t bear costs, individuals do. Much of that cost is borne by the individual smokers. Furthermore, since smokers tend to die sooner, there is an offsetting reduction in Social Security payments (as well as health care costs in old age). According to research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, when you incorporate those factors there is actually a net benefit to smoking of 32 cents per pack. The Congressional Research Service has published similar findings.

8) Banning activities because they increase health costs sets a dangerous precedent for the prospect of individual freedom. What’s next, no donuts at faculty meetings? Living a sedentary lifestyle and eating an unhealthy diet increases health costs dramatically. (Note that the 2010 proposal explicitly mentioned obesity as an example of a health care problem that is a “central concern.”) Are we going to require that all employees and students exercise and eat a healthy diet? How would that be enforced?

9) There’s a very simple solution that could be implemented tomorrow. Move the designated smoking areas farther away from areas with large volumes of pedestrian traffic. Problem solved.

Apathy is tyranny’s best friend. If you agree that banning tobacco is a bad idea, I strongly encourage you to make your voice heard.

Dean Stansel is an associate professor of Economics at FGCU.

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