Recently, the UC Office of the President released a mandate “asking” each of the UC schools to implement a plan aimed at reducing tobacco usage on campus. According to this plan, by January 2014 all of indoor and outdoor UC Santa Barbara will be required to be 100 percent smoke-free. While the goals of this plan are noble on the surface — reducing cigarette consumption and second-hand smoke ingestion — ultimately, this plan is oppressive and overly authoritarian.
A value that we hold in this country is the idea that people have the right to govern their own bodies, to a certain degree of course. Because we understand that other people have the right to do what they want to their own bodies as well, we know we shouldn’t go about doing things that bring harm to others, even if it is unintentional. Walking around smoking in public can cause others to breathe in the second-hand smoke, something that has been pounded into our heads as “dangerous” through years of programs like Red Ribbon Week.
Though many of these drug-education programs use scare tactics, I am inclined to agree with them that, overall, cigarettes are a bad thing. Every cigarette one smokes, on average, knocks 10 minutes off his or her lifespan. This knowledge alone is enough to keep me from lighting up. But the simple fact is that some people, for their own personal choices and reasons, are going to keep smoking regardless of what they are told. They understand the dangers and risks it presents their bodies, but choose to do it anyway.
Despite the fact that it remains a personal choice on the smokers’ parts, we have still gone to extremes (particularly in 21st-century California) to try to convince them at all costs not to smoke. One example of our continued war on smoking is the passage of a law requiring the printing of warnings and images, such as pictures of lung tumors and gangrene-infected feet, on cigarette packages. However, these might be totally ineffective after all, as some smokers simply take the cigarettes out of the package and put them in their own personal container. If people like what they do, they will find a way around any obstacle to do it.
Obesity is right on par with smoking as one of the leading causes of preventable deaths in the United States. If we’re banning cigarettes from our universities to save people from themselves, why don’t we go a little further and ban fatty foods, too? We should substitute all the Cokes and Sprites in our vending machines with canned carrot juice, and replace “Die Bretzel” with “Die Tofu.” People obviously don’t know how to make their own decisions, so why not give them a little push in the right direction?
Of course, these are all ridiculous ideas. Instead of full-out banning cigarettes, the university should consider having clearly defined areas of campus where smoking is allowed, little corners of the outdoors where the smoke won’t impede other passersby. In some countries like Japan, there are smoking rooms where people walk in, take a couple drags, and walk out. Of course, I can think of a hundred things that that funding could be better spent on, but this is just another example of how we can solve this problem without destroying other people’s rights.
Another reason listed for banning cigarettes is that it pollutes the environment. However, in this day and age, banning cigarettes to make our air “cleaner” is, quite unfortunately, laughable. With the increasing number of cars, cows and coal plants in this country, our air is continually going to become more and more saturated with pollutants. In fact, there are some cities where merely being outside and breathing the air for a few hours will fill you with an amount of toxins comparable to those you would inhale from smoking an entire pack of cigarettes. If the traffic doesn’t dissuade you, this is just another reason to avoid L.A.
Smoking smells bad, is terrible for you and has been shown over and over to be more addictive than crack or heroin. Nonetheless, if you are aware of these facts, then I’m not going to stop you from indulging in it — that’s your choice. Our school administration might have a righteous goal in mind, but on their way to saving us they’ll be trampling all over our rights.
Furthermore, this plan won’t just kill cigarettes; cigars, pipes, hookahs, e-cigs and all other tobacco, nicotine, and smoking products and devices will be banned from campus, too. I may not smoke, but I believe that others should have the right to choose whether or not they want to. If the UC can so easily ban tobacco with a plan like this, I worry for what freedoms will be next to go.
Jay Grafft may not agree with what you do, but he’ll defend to the death your right to do it.
A version of this article appeared on page 15 of the September 26, 2013 print issue.