Wednesday, October 16, 2013

University of California System to Ban Smokeless Tobacco Use and E-Cigarette Use on Campus Beginning January 1, 2014

Starting next year, the use of smokeless tobacco and the use of electronic cigarettes will not be allowed anywhere on University of California property. These bans will accompany a ban on the use of cigarettes and all other tobacco products on the 10 campuses in the UC system.

According to an article in the Daily Nexus: "UCSB is currently making the shift to going totally smoke-and-tobacco-free, as all universities in the 10-campus UC system will be officially designated as non-smoking beginning Jan. 1, 2014. On the first day of the new year, any tobacco and tobacco-free products smoked through cigarettes, pipes, water pipes and hookahs used on campus — in addition to smokeless tobacco and unregulated nicotine products such as “e-cigarettes” — will be in violation of the policy. Adoption of the policy will join the UC with 1,100 other colleges and universities throughout the U.S. that have already implemented such regulations to limit second and third-hand smoke exposure on campus. The UC system’s transition to becoming completely smoke and tobacco-free was first announced by former UC President Mark G. Yudof back in January 2012."

The Rest of the Story

This policy makes little sense. First of all, while I recognize the need to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke exposure, it hardly seems necessary to ban smoking everywhere on the entire campus to accomplish this goal. Banning smoking in all indoor areas, in outdoor areas where people congregate or cannot easily avoid exposure, and within a reasonable distance of doors and entrance ways seems reasonable. But it is not necessary to completely ban smoking, even in private cars and remote areas of parking lots and open fields, in order to adequately protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke.

Second, even if we acknowledge a rationale for banning smoking, why would we want to also ban electronic cigarette use? The overwhelming majority of smokers who use electronic cigarettes are trying to quit smoking. Why would we want to deter this? Why punish these smokers for making a wonderful health decision? Why provide a disincentive for smokers to quit, while providing an incentive for them to return to cigarette use? How does this make any kind of health statement?

Third, while banning smoking protects the health of others, banning smokeless tobacco use is purely paternalistic. But if the university is going to set paternalistic policies to protect students' health, then how can it ban smokeless tobacco use but not alcohol use? To be sure, alcohol will cause more death and destruction on these university campuses than smokeless tobacco. Even worse, by banning smokeless tobacco but leaving alcohol untouched, these policies represent the worst form of hypocrisy.

You either decide to promote a healthy campus or you don't. And if you believe that promoting a healthy campus means being paternalistic and regulating the behaviors that people can or cannot do (even if they don't affect others), then you can't be selective and just cut out the behaviors that you personally don't approve of.

The rest of the story is that the UC smoke-free policy reeks of hypocrisy, intolerance, and moral judgment of others. It is by no means a public health policy. Instead, it is a statement of a warped ideology, by which getting drunk is fine, but using a little dip is not, and by which trying to quit smoking via hypnosis is A-OK, but trying to quit using electronic cigarettes is a no-no.

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