Campus smoking ban is illogical
The Florida Gulf Coast University community has reevaluated its campus smoking policy on numerous occasions over the years. Each time, little or no change is made to the policy. However, reactions to the potential change in policy tend to elicit one of two responses, either: “This is America, dang it. You can’t force people to quit smoking.” Or, “Smoking is harmful to our students, our campus and people shouldn’t do it.” Both sides of the argument weigh the limits of personal autonomy. Frankly, we have had similar discussions over most “controversial” subjects on our campus, such as the presence of open-air preachers and the Genocide Awareness Project (a group that shows large billboard photos of actual aborted fetuses to protest our country’s stance on abortion). We are quick to extend certain privileges to these organizations or persons under the protection of the First Amendment. Essentially, these people have the right to express themselves, so long as it is in the proper time, place and manner. The reason we allow their expression is because our country operates under the presumption that everyone will have the right to control their bodies, their speech and whom they associate with. Society will limit the boundaries of those collective rights, but if we want to institute a substantial limit on an otherwise legally protected action or behavior, we need to evaluate our motivations for doing so. I am of the opinion that smoking is a legally protected right. Therefore, we only have the right to restrict the time, place and manner in which a person can smoke. In fact, we already have. Smokers can’t smoke anywhere on campus except designated areas. For those who want an outright ban on smoking, you might ask yourselves why. Chances are, it is for one of the following reasons: Smoking is bad for a smoker’s health, cigarette butts cause harm to the environment or smoking is annoying to non-smokers in the area. Realistically though, what we are really saying is, “I don’t like watching what you are doing, so I am going to ban you from doing it.” We can’t honestly say that smelling smoke in the breezeways is tantamount to any kind of actual, physical harm. Should we ban the consumption of meat at a restaurant because the person sitting at the next booth is a vegetarian? Should we force smokers to use smokeless tobacco instead? It would still cause harm to the person, but we wouldn’t smell smoke in the breezeways. If the rationale is to protect people from engaging in destructive behavior for the betterment of others, should we ban alcohol on campus? Excessive alcohol use is just as detrimental to a person’s health as is smoking, but surely the campus would be up in arms if the administration decided to ban drinking in the dorm rooms of those who were 21 or over. It’s because we extend the privilege to drink to those who have that legal ability to do so, because as a community, we are willing to absorb the negative consequences (e.g., the potential for drinking and driving, trash and litter and excess noise to others in the area). Come to think of it, is the excess noise caused by drinking in dorm rooms more tolerable than a fleeting whiff of smoke smelled while walking to your next class? Furthermore, we can’t say that we should ban every action that is harmful to the environment. We don’t ban fast food, even though the amount of trash generated by fast food is certainly close to the amount of trash from cigarette butts. In terms of preventing harm in general, eating unhealthily is just as bad as smoking. In fact, assuming a causative relationship, it is worse. According to the CDC, one in every three adults is obese. By definition, there are more obese people than there are smokers. It’s a greater problem, yet we can’t imagine limiting the consumption of unhealthy food. No more late night ramen noodles for you. Finally, I ask the FGCU community to imagine the longterm consequences a ban on smoking would have on the students. Realistically, would banning smoking stop people from smoking on campus? Of course it wouldn’t. Smokers would continue to smoke. Or, they would switch to smokeless tobacco—which is equally as harmful. Consequently, how would a ban affect the enrollment process? Would we constructively prohibit a student from coming to our University because he/she knows that smoking is prohibited? In fact, enforcement would likely cause problems of its own. Smokers would probably get more tickets for smoking. They would have to willfully violate a campus ordinance. Campus ordinances are enforceable under the student code of conduct. Would repeated “smoking tickets” call for a student to be disciplined under the student code of conduct for such violations? We would suspend or expel a student for smoking a few cigarettes? Hopefully not, because we recognize that there are certain, somewhat harmful, expressions that are permissible. If the enforcement of the ban would be undesirable, what is the point of instituting a ban in the first place? Let members of the University community continue to smoke in designated areas, or be prepared for the risks a ban would impose. Jeffrey Haut is a former senior staff writer for the Eagle News. Haut graduated in 2013 with his B.A. in Political Science and is pursuing his J.D. at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington.