Editorial: "Tobacco" ban is an overstep of the UI's authority


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The UI’s move to ban what officials consider “tobacco-products” is an overstep of their authority and a violation of individual freedom.

The UI campus is slated to completely prohibit all tobacco products on campus beginning Aug. 24. The ban includes electronic cigarettes, chewing or smokeless tobacco, snuff, pipes, hookahs, bidis, and kreteks.

On Wednesday, The Daily Iowan reported the announcement by UI President Sally Mason. In the article, a particularly striking statistic is given: According to yearly statistics, UI police issued 463 smoking citations in 2012. In 2014, that number shrank to 56. Is this evidence that the policy is working or just that it isn’t being enforced?

The reality of the UI campus is that many parts are inextricably entwined with Iowa City. This isn’t Ames or Cedar Falls, where the boundaries of campus are clear-cut and easy to find. This ambiguity of where it is and isn’t “OK” to smoke is a contributing factor to why you can still find cigarette butts throughout campus.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board would like to draw attention to the other implications the ban has — on the definitions of tobacco, the reasoning behind banning a product, and individual freedom.

The reason an area is smoke-free is not, primarily, to encourage people to give up smoking. That’s a secondary benefit. The reason an area is smoke-free is because secondhand smoke is dangerous and harmful to anyone in contact with it. Smoking a cigarette releases toxins into the immediate area that others have not asked for nor consented to receiving. It is unfair and unjust to ask those people, young or old, to live in an environment that smells and looks a particular way that poisons their lungs. 

If smoking restrictions are not intended to stop people from smoking entirely but to preserve the airspace and health of bystanders, why would a product such as chewing tobacco be under consideration for restriction? Whether you find its use repulsive or enjoyable, it doesn’t directly or indirectly affect bystanders who have not consented to a change in their environment. It should not be banned from public space, then, and it’s an overreach on the university’s part to make chewing tobacco a finable offense anywhere but inside university buildings.

The same goes for e-cigarettes, misidentified by the university as a “tobacco product.” A working definition would require there to be tobacco present. 

E-cigarettes are still largely uncharted territory in the medical field, and long-term effects are yet to be seen. Irrefutable, though, is the fact that the vapor from e-cigarettes contains significantly fewer carcinogens than tobacco smoke, no tar, and is designed to leave faint, pleasant aromas. No more than someone wearing a bit of cologne or perfume. 

If people choose to vape with an e-cig, their choice should be respected, not dictated by the university. Because no nonconsenting individuals are affected, the use of e-cigs should be allowed on campus until further research proves any significant risks to bystanders. 

Students pay hefty tuitions to be educated here, not mothered. If unhealthy habits are the UI’s top priority, then the removal of all soda products from its dining outlets would be a good place for this bad-decision-proofing policy to occur.

The Editorial Board believes that if UI students are legal adults, they have the right to use whatever products they wish — so long as they are legal and do not affect nonconsenting bystanders.

The UI shouldn’t ban chew and electronic cigarettes from campus. Not only will it most likely be ineffective (similar to the smoking ban already in place), but it also is an overreach of UI power over individual liberty. The university doesn’t have a clear intention for banning the products outside of their hazards to the consenting user. If these products can be bought and used legally in the United States without harming others, they shouldn’t be of the university’s concern. We may be at the UI, but we live in the United States.

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