For being a legal product, tobacco certainly comes with a lot of restrictions in America. And each new law or regulation that is met with no resistance, the non-smoking lobby feels emboldened to impose even more.
Add Fort Hays State University to the growing list of entities on the anti-tobacco bandwagon. Beginning July 2016, the campus no longer will allow any tobacco products to be consumed. Cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes, vaping devices, chew — presumably any product containing tobacco or nicotine — will not be indulged while on university grounds. The rule will apply to students, faculty, staff and visitors alike.
On the one hand, the decision comes as no surprise. The charge given the Tobacco Policy Task Force in April 2014 was to “move the campus forward toward the goal of achieving a tobacco-free campus.” A $25,000 grant from the Kansas Health Foundation was used, in part, to hire the director of the National Center for Tobacco Policy as a consultant.
Apparently the director, Ty Patterson, was persuasive.
Last October, he met with a broad sample of the FHSU community. Initial consensus showed support for the current policy (smoking only allowed in designated parking lots), no support for a smoke-free or tobacco-free campus, and an aversion to trampling on the rights of tobacco users. By the end of the second day of meetings, Patterson had woven an effective storyline that included environmental concerns (butts discarded on the ground and the way “tobacco plantations damage farmland that could be growing food”), human-rights concerns (“89 percent of children aged 5 to 14 years old work in the tobacco fields of Malawi”), and respect for others (since most smokers don’t do so around their children and loved ones, they shouldn’t mind not smoking around co-workers’ cars in parking lots).
The needle was moved enough that the consensus changed. Of course, it wouldn’t have mattered, as the task force was pursuing a clearly defined end result.
We will not argue against the ill effects brought about by tobacco use. Health officials have been warning the American public about it for decades.
And while overall smoking rates are declining slowly, it remains a legal product. It should follow, then, that the decision to partake in tobacco use is a personal choice.
It strikes us as somewhat contradictory that on the hallowed grounds of a university fully engaged in academic freedom and the pursuit of personal enlightenment, FHSU has chosen to take on a nanny role. “Knowing” what’s best for others and imposing a ban on choices still legal for individuals to make doesn’t appear innovative to us. It is an overreaching regulation of the very sort the university itself doesn’t appreciate receiving from either the federal or state level.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry