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A real drag

Health isn’t the issue in the decision to prohibit smoking

Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 16:09

Does anyone have a light? Mmm, nothing like a cigarette after a hardy meal … of constitutional freedom. Too bad, those freedoms are being infringed upon by an updated University policy.

An email, sent Sept. 18 and signed by University President R. Bowen Loftin, stated A&M’s policy regarding tobacco use has been modified. The new rule prohibits tobacco use in all areas “immediately adjacent” to buildings and campus structures. This supposedly includes sidewalks, parking lots, walkways and attached parking structures. Previously, tobacco use was only prohibited from inside buildings on campus.

The explained reason for the change: it’s the result of a thoughtful decision-making process based on well-documented evidence that use of tobacco products poses significant health risks.

I find it frustrating when health risks are used as the argument behind prohibiting smoking anywhere on campus, when health is not the reason for the change. In my understanding, there are a few reasons.

First, the motivating factor is actually a policy being pushed by research funding provider, Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas, upon grant recipients such as Texas A&M.

CPRIT announced a policy earlier this year that stated its grant recipients are required to implement campus policies that prohibit tobacco use in and around buildings associated with CPRIT research financing.

Texas A&M has received more than $4 million in grant funding from CPRIT. This does not include the millions of dollars that entities within the A&M system have received. The latest grant to the A&M Health Science Center, paid March 29, was more than $1.4 million. The HSC was approved by the board of regents to fall under the purview of the University in August.

Now, few smokers will tell you inhaling tar-ridden smoke is good for them. But the argument (at hand) is not whether smoking is unhealthy, or even whether second-hand smoke is unhealthy. The issue for the University is found in the middle of a balancing act: comply with all of CPRIT’s rules to receive the desirable research funding or protect the individual liberties of the people who live, work and learn on this public ground.

This brings us to the second reason why using people’s health as the justification for encroaching upon individual liberties is, at the very least, frustrating.

Personally, I don’t find one casual smoker near the steps of a building entrance any more harmful to one’s health than the iced mocha latte or processed potato chips ingested on your lunch break.

What was wrong with the designated smoking areas? People who want to smoke have a place to go and people who dislike smoke know where not to go.

And thirdly — just the thought of enforcing such an extensive policy gives me a headache. Aren’t the resources that would be used for such law enforcement preoccupied with other duties?
Currently, such resources are being used to facilitate the education and safety of law-abiding citizens, smokers and non-smokers alike. But I guess crime prevention, traffic order, state and municipal law enforcement and catching bad guys aren’t more important than Camel Carey lighting up between his economics class and chem lab.

Hyperbole aside, people have a right to voice their opinions for or against smoking. If the legitimate concern is health, let’s open the decision to the people who are affected or involved with that issue as a whole. The decision shouldn’t just be left up to those concerned with research finances: choosing one necessity (research funding) at the compromise of another necessity (individual liberties).

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