Actions taken by the Associated Students Legislative Council on Wednesday night to recommend the ban of cigarette sales on campus may send student rights up in smoke – a cheesy pun, but a serious issue. Leg Council finally mustered requisite approval for a position paper endorsing the ban after turning it down on two previous occasions. Such inconsistency should render the issue immediately suspect, even though nothing has been finalized. The paper will be passed on to the UCen Governance Board and Chancellor Henry Yang, who will decide whether or not to draft campus regulations banning the sale of tobacco products. It is up to students to see that this does not happen.
Internal debate among Leg Council board members has focused on political and moral questions surrounding the issue. The concept of banning tobacco sales was first introduced last November, but the 1999-2000 Leg Council was hesitant to tackle such a cloudy issue head-on. Instead, a plebiscite was placed on the spring ballot asking students if they would support such a measure, effectively leaving the question to this year’s board. Fifty-five percent of those who voted and answered the question said yes, and proponents therefore called the result a mandate from the student body to pass a position paper. Recently, however, opponents of the ban have argued that low voter turnout during the election should negate the legitimacy of the outcome. The fact of the matter is that the election was perfectly legitimate. Those who fail to vote must suffer the consequences. Ideologically speaking, however, forbidding the sale of tobacco products amounts to a paternalistic measure that threatens students’ autonomy.
Those who favor yanking cigarettes from the shelves of campus stores such as the Arbor and the Corner Store, argue that proceeds from the sale of a product that accelerates death should not be generated by the university. Essentially, proponents of the ban believe that UCSB is endorsing the tobacco industry. On the contrary, the UC Regents potential investment in portfolios that contain “Big Tobacco” stocks would be an endorsement. The sale of cigarettes on campus is ordinary commercial business; it by no means endorses tobacco companies. The choice is left to individuals whether or not to bankroll the industry.
Sponsors of the ban insist that they are not condemning smoking itself, but what else can they be doing? Students should not be required to interrupt their busy schedules to walk into Isla Vista for cigarettes. Alcohol and Twinkies are also sold on campus – consumption of enough of either of them can also accelerate death, but Leg Council is not attacking the university’s “endorsement” of Budweiser or Hostess. Admittedly, the private contractor Chilitos only sells booze, but the principal is the same and administrators could forbid such sales without much difficulty.
Banning the sale of tobacco products on campus is tantamount to saying, “We know what is best for you.” If Leg Council is concerned about the primary and secondhand effects of smoking, fine, but it should not mask such concern in nonsense “endorsement” rhetoric. Unless student government is prepared to ban on-campus smoking outright, it should not interfere with commercial business and personal choice.
Leg Council was smart enough to deny this position paper twice in the past, but it is now up to students to ensure that the UCen Governance Board and Chancellor Yang side with student rights.