Point/Counterpoint: No, Tobacco Sales Should Not Be Banned on University Property

“This proposal has me questioning what it really means to attend a university committed to diversity.”

T-minus one hour until the WSA commences its discussion of a proposed ban on the sale of tobacco products on University-owned property. As promised, here’s a counterpoint opinion against the proposed resolution courtesy of Charlie Smith ’15, founder of Wes Students for a Free Society:

Tonight the WSA will vote on a potential ban on the sale of tobacco products by Wesleyan tenants. In other words, the WSA will vote as to whether or not you should be able to buy cigarettes from Neon Deli.

This proposal has me confused. It has me questioning what it really means to attend a university committed to diversity. I would think that “Diversity University” entails the celebration or at least the acceptance of any lifestyles that students may have as long as they do not hurt others. Whether we agree with their choices or not, we cherish their right to make them and accept that what is right for one may not be for another. Many of us hope to see our commitment to diversity embodied in our classes, in our clubs, and, yes, in our stores.

I don’t smoke cigarettes but I do sometimes eat candy bars. They’re filled with fats, preservatives, and almost nothing healthy. Eat too many and you may very well shorten your life span significantly. Not only that but they’re physically addictive. The thing is that I enjoy them and so I choose to eat them from time to time. This is a choice I feel comfortable making for myself but if it’s the role of “Diversity University” to tell us whether or not we can buy cigarettes from Neon Deli, then why not candy bars at Wes Shop? Should we pull all unhealthy food from campus stores and ban cookie dough cups at WesWings?

Now clearly cigarettes are more harmful and addictive than candy bars. Unsurprisingly, many people choose to refrain from smoking cigarettes for this very reason! However, the costs and benefits of smoking cigarettes are entirely subjective. To some students the stress relief and social benefits of smoking may be far more important than living until they’re 90, and so they decide to continue smoking. If you believe in diversity, then that’s a choice you should be willing to accept.

If Wesleyan students were truly united in their belief that smoking cigarettes is a bad lifestyle choice, then Neon Deli would have no reason to stock them. Why not allow students to make this decision for themselves? Why not allow those who enjoy buying cigarettes from Neon Deli to continue doing so while at the same time allowing those who do not to enjoy their healthy lungs?

Wesleying also interviewed full-time Twitter personality and habitual smoker @weird_vibes ’14, who asked not to be identified by real name, for another student perspective against the resolution. Naturally, the interview took place over Twitter, after Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip and before Jacco Gardner.

For more on the proposed ban, click here.

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  • think about it

    This has nothing to do with trust in decision making. It’s about what industries the university should be profiting from. For example if we divested from oil and gas (something that a number of students have called for) and then put a gas station on campus that we profited from, it wouldn’t be saying no you can’t buy gas and we don’t trust you to be able to make the correct decision about your fossil fuel use, it would simply be saying that Wesleyan does not believe that we should profit from the industry, a statement Wesleyan has already begun to make with our choice of endowment managers (as is pointed out in the resolution).

    No one has to abide by any “draconian” views or rules. The same way that I’m sorry if the university interrupted people’s convenience in buying alcohol when we closed Club Liquors in the same building that Neon is in, no one is or was forced to change consumption patterns if they don’t want to change them. The idea is that the university should not profit from them given their (proven) side effects (and those side effects do extend to others not just the user so don’t use the fatty foods argument on me).

    If you think that the university should continue to profit from the tobacco industry regardless of your views on smoking, then you have a legitimate reason to oppose the resolution. Based on the comments, though, it sounds like this was brought to engender just that discussion on where the priorities of the students lie.

  • Alum ’10

    http://wesleyanargus.com/2009/04/24/waiting-to-inhale/

    Can we get a WSA resolution calling on P-Safe to, you know, actually abide by and enforce campus policies?

    (I lived in the old blue house next to the P-Safe office during the 2010-11 school year. It was a near-daily ritual to walk out front and see an officer smoking right in front of the PS office. Way to set the example, fellas.)

  • Anon

    The point of this resolution isn’t to stop smoking among students or even to reduce that smoking. The point of this resolution is to show that the university does not condone the destructive behavior of cigarette smoking, just like banning bottled water shows that the university does not condone what those products do to the environment. This is a symbolic action, not so much a practical one. It’s also a symbolic action showing the the University does not support the cigarette business and what it stands for. The WSA knows that students will still be able to get cigarettes if this goes forward. A lot of people who oppose this action are people who really just don’t want to walk an extra block or two. If you’re really committed to smoking, you’ll make the extra effort to walk to gas man.

  • Nicole Updegrove

    FYI, The WSA discussed the issue (including comments raised here) last night and postponed voting in order to get more input from students and from the owners of Neon Deli. I personally appreciate the input given here on Wesleying on all sides of the issue. I’m still undecided, as are some other Assembly members.

  • theirony

    If you replaced the word “cigarettes” with “firearms”, everyone would be in favor of this, and nobody would be making slippery-slope or abuse of power arguments. In fact, they’d be arguing for firearms to be banned from campus altogether, not just for their sale to be prohibited (I think they are banned right now, but I don’t know). Don’t misunderstand me; I’m against both firearms and cigarettes.

    • check your facts

      From the CNAC, Regulation 9e : Lethal Weapons—Personal possession or use of operable firearms, air guns, or other lethal weapons is prohibited on the Wesleyan campus or while participating in University activities.

      Mere possession of firearms is already not permitted on campus, whereas both possession and use of tobacco is allowed.

      • theirony

        That was my point – they’re banned, and nobody has a problem with it.

        • jeff

          oh my lord. you’re a moron

          • likessmokingbuthatesadhominem

            Nu-uh, YOU’RE the moron!

        • and?

          no one apparently has a problem with the possession or use of tobacco either since that’s not what the resolution does. Your analogy doesn’t make much sense beyond “some things are banned.” You really can’t see the fundamental difference between guns and tobacco?

    • greensocks

      I…never looked at it that way. That’s a strangely good comparison. Cigarettes and guns are both phallic objects that people use to compensate for their insecurities, anxieties, lack of masculinity, and small dicks. There aren’t particularly good reasons why someone has to own either, and they both hurt people, but they both have big government lobbies, and legions of fans who scream obnoxiously that they’re losing they’re rights as soon as anyone suggests even the slightest limit or control.

    • Charlie

      I think after a little bit of thought it’s clear that there are some practical differences between firearms and cigarrettes haha.

      What we’re really talking about here are externalities, costs to third parties. No one here, i hope, has a problem with people doing something if it hurts no one but themselves.

      Second hand smoke is a real problem and something worth tackling through some pretty common sense and low cost measures, perhaps designated no smoking zones etc. If second hand smoke was constantly poisoning us all and there was no way to stop it I’d agree that cigarrettes should probably be restricted. Luckily that’s not the case. The costs of second hand smoke are easy to minimize at a low cost.

      Guns, designed to inflict damage on/kill other people, pose a third part cost immensely higher than cigarrettes. It’s seems to me that mitigating these potentially huge costs would be a lot of trouble and Wesleyan just isn’t equipped (and shouldn’t really be) to regulate firearms.

      I’m not saying there’s nothing to the comparison you made but I think that anyone who’s having an honest, practical, and fair discussion about this will recognize that there’ s a difference between firearms and cigarrettes.

      • Andy

        Look it up. Many, many more people die each year from lung cancer than shooting deaths. There were 158,081 deaths by lung cancer in 2009 (most recent year I can find data for) vs 30,470 by shooting that year. That’s approximately five times as many deaths from lung cancer. Cigarettes harm their users far more than other people, but so do guns – 2/3 of shooting deaths are suicides. And, no, cigarettes aren’t the only cause of lung cancer. But they’re a big contributor – the National Cancer Institute says they cause 80% of cases in women and 90% in men. Which means that stopping smoking altogether would save far more lives than stopping all gun deaths. This is ignoring any other negative health effects of cigarettes, and there are a few. But nobody wants to ban smoking on campus,just to make it slightly harder to acquire cigarettes, which is a far milder and less “rights”-infringing step than banning firearms, a measure which everyone can agree is totally reasonable, even though it saves far fewer lives.

        • Charlie

          Alright last thing I’ll write on here. Those statistics really aren’t relevant to this debate. Yes more people die from tobacco related illnesses than from gun deaths. Similarly more people die from illnesses relating to eating fatty foods than die from gun related deaths (or cigarrettes). More people die from car accidents as well.

          This is in no way a principeled justification for restricting access to any of these things. The choices we make have both costs and benefits specific to the individual making that choice. I may enjoy cigarrettes and not mind if I die a bit earlier. We all make decisions each day weighing health benefits vs our own enjoyment. The question at hand is whether or not people should be able to make these choices for themselves. If you don’t believe that they should be able to make these decisions then you must be in favor of restricting all sorts of dangerous behavior despite the fact that individuals may have their own reasons for doing what they do. The argument in favor of restricting access to cigarrettes is not one of principle. You are simply imposing your own values on other people in a way that is inconsistent with a respect for a diversity of lifestyle choices.

          What makes those gun deaths different is that they involve one person taking the life of another. Those people didn’t choose to die that was forced upon them. Yes there are plenty of deaths from suicides and perhaps that’s a justification for psychological screenings or something but not too sure how much that has to do with the issue at hand. We could get into a discussion about whether or not many suicidal/possibly mentally ill people are rational actors but that’s for another discussion. Cigarette smokers, addicted or otherwise, are still rational actors, many of whom choose to quit. It’s worth mentioning that lots of things are addictive both psychologically and physically, again not a robust justification for restricting access to adults.

          Smoking is a personal choice and again if second hand smoking is a problem lets address that directly.

          • But really…

            This resolution is not imposing values onto somebody else. In no way does it prevent or really even limit a person’s lifestyle choice to smoke. That freedom is still there (but wouldn’t be under your suggestion of smoking areas, etc.).

            What it does do is prevent the University from *enabling* that lifestyle choice through the sale of cigarettes on its properties.

          • really

            The university “enables” all sorts of lifestyle choices by selling fatty foods and a host of unhealthy products at its stores. This is a very arbitrary stand against one item in particular simply because some people dislike it.

  • Bryan Skowera

    I am not in favor of the trend of using legislative power, be it on the federal, state or WSA level, to force people to be healthier by restricting the sale of legal goods. Please allow folks who wish to throw their long-term health away for a quick buzz to do so in peace. Please feel free to restrict public smoking and designate smoking zones to reduce second-hand exposure for folks who wish to remain healthy.

    Warm regards,
    Ex-smoking, heavy drinking alumnus

    • anon

      It isn’t legislative power. Wes might use legislative terms/structures, but it’s a private institution, not a government. Saying it doesn’t have the right to say it won’t rent property to people who sell cigarettes is like saying a movie theater doesn’t have the right to limit concessions to ones they sell or an apartment building doesn’t have the right to ban pets.

      • Bryan Skowera

        For all intensive purposes, the WSA is a legislative power that is organized as a government. You have elected officials. You have regulations which carry severe punishments if violated.

        I did not say the WSA does not have the right to make this determination. I clearly said “I am not in favor”.

        The fact that the WSA has the right to ban cigarette sales does not mean it is the appropriate action. The WSA/Wesleyan as the right decree the entire campus as a “dry” and prohibit the possession of alchohol, but, again, I would not be in favor of that.

        • clarifying

          The WSA doesn’t have the power to make this determination. A resolution is a statement of the position of the student body, hence why the assembly is looking to get the opinions of the student body on this resolution. The resolution, if passed, is sent to the administration who decides what to do with it. Again, the WSA does not have to power to ban cigarette sales unilaterally, it can’t decree that Wesleyan is a “dry” campus.

          • Bryan Skowera

            Thank you for the clarification.

  • so faschy

    “Should we pull all unhealthy food from campus stores and ban cookie dough cups at WesWings?”

    DONT GIVE EM ANYMORE BAD IDEAS

    • https://twitter.com/weird_vibes weird_vibes

      For real, this chick is all like “perhaps I’ll write another resolution.” The most terrifying 5 words…

      • Nicole Updegrove

        Just noting – writing a resolution means having an idea, writing it down in terms of its logical steps, and talking about it. If people come to me with a problem that seems legitimate, I’ll write a resolution. That’s not exactly a scary threat. It means the WSA will have a conversation about the issue and invite community input, which (I’m told) is part of what we’re elected to do.

        • wes-smoker

          What’s scary is that this seems to be a pet project based on personal bias against cigarette-smoking. Objectively, there’s no difference between this resolution and one that bans candy, shot glasses (at broad street), or energy drinks. If the University has an obligation to force us into healthy decisions, where does it stop? A daily cookie dough cup from Weswings is going to take a toll on my health at least as quickly as a few cigarettes a day, but if I want to make that sacrifice for the joy of dessert (or a smoke) it’s my choice and no one else’s.

          It’s one thing to ban plastic water bottles since their impact extends far beyond their effect on the individual consumer, but making the purchase of cigarettes more inconvenient is infringing on my right to make decisions that only impact my own body. Wesleyan offers smoking-cessation services for those who are interested. If you’re invested in tackling the issue of smoking on campus I would work on strengthening that program rather than wasting energy on a symbolic measure that won’t actually create any meaningful change .

          • anon

            There’s an enormous difference between this resolution and one that bans candy, shot glasses or energy drinks. Secondhand smoke. You have the right to make unhealthy decisions for yourself, but not for the people around you.

          • Nicole Updegrove

            My only “bias” against cigarette-smoking is one that comes from objective scientific data about the consequences. As I said when Wesleying interviewed me, I have smoked and I do enjoy smoking.

            Unfortunately, when I have (or anyone else has) smoked, not only do cigarettes hurt my health, but they hugely impact the health of people around me, both second- and third-hand. Our excessive consumption of WesWings cookies doesn’t impact anyone except ourselves as individuals unless we gain sufficient weight to impact other people’s mobility, or lose health insurance.

            I question your statement that I’m asserting that the University “has an obligation to force us into healthy decisions.” Most people on this and other threads agree that smoking will continue. You yourself think that this resolution “won’t actually create meaningful change.” How then is the University forcing anything on students? This resolution, if instituted by the university, simply dictates that on-campus businesses (Neon Deli’s website does advertise that it is on campus, for the record) can’t sell cigarettes. Plenty of stores within two blocks of campus also sell cigarettes, and Wesleyan has no impact on their sales.

            Only 5 students per year use the smoking-cessation services. If I hear a complaint about the quality of that service (as I have heard about second-hand smoke, campus smoking generally, Neon Deli, and Wesleyan’s commercial enterprises), I would be happy to take that on as a project.

          • wes-smoker

            You can’t rely on the secondhand smoke argument it you’re admitting that this policy won’t have an effect on the number of smokers on campus. That being said, it really is no different than cookie dough or shot glasses. If your issue is secondhand smoke (which, do your research, may not be as harmful as you may think) then find a way of tackling the smoking issue that addresses that aspect of campus smoking. Making it more inconvenient to purchase cigarettes and diverting profits from Neon doesn’t solve any of the issues you raise.

          • anon

            I think it solves all of them. Less smoking=less secondhand smoke. The policy would have an effect on the number of new smokers who start on campus. It just wouldn’t stop anyone from smoking if they didn’t want to, And, no, smoking is different than cookie dough or shot glasses, unless you’re in the habit of force-feeding cookie dough and tequila to random passerby.

          • mind-boggled

            okay what is third hand smoke? please explain.

          • Nicole Updegrove

            Third-hand smoke is remnants of smoke (and carcinogens) on your clothes, belongings, inside of your car, etc. It can linger for years. Effects still being studied.

          • Disagree

            This *is* a way of strengthening those programs. It strikes me as wildly inconsistent that WesWell puts a ton of energy into health education on tobacco and yet the University allows the sale of tobacco from one of its own buildings.

  • anon

    ” I would think that “Diversity University” entails the celebration or at least the acceptance of any lifestyles that students may have as long as they do not hurt others.”

    But smoking does hurt others. It isn’t the same as candy bars, because you don’t stuff your candy bars down other people’s throats. I’m sensitive to secondhand smoke, and I’ve had some really bad experiences here. Honestly, if it was a pill people swallowed or an injection they took, I couldn’t care less.
    That said, it’s still a lesser evil than no need-blind, so the university should really expand its cigarette offerings to generate the revenue it needs. A few rich kids getting lung cancer and headaches/coughing/asthma attacks for the rest of us is a small price to pay for economic diversity. Addiction is the gift that keeps on giving – if we start selling cigarettes at Weshop, Pi, and Usdan, it’ll be a big help to the university’s endowment.

    • lol

      “if we start selling cigarettes at Weshop, Pi, and Usdan, it’ll be a big help to the university’s endowment.”

      That is so laughably false that I’m having trouble typing.

      You make a useful point at the beginning but then dove down some bizarre rabbit hole.

  • Hey!

    I think we also have to think about Neon. They will no doubt lose money by the ban on cigarettes, if it passes, and people will end up just going somewhere else to buy them. It won’t cut down on the number of people smoking (or even starting to smoke – it’s not like people just waltz into Neon and say “hey look! i’d like to try those!”).

    • .

      A major barrier to Neon being able to take Middletown Cash is the sale of tobacco products. If tobacco goes, perhaps Neon could convince the University to let them take Middletown Cash and their business would probably increase.

      • https://twitter.com/weird_vibes weird_vibes

        CVS takes Middletown Cash and they sell cigarettes. Just sayin’.

        • .

          Doesn’t change the fact that it would be easier for Neon to get Middletown Cash if they did not sell cigarettes.

        • different cases

          We don’t know why this is the case, but I have heard through a number of sources that Neon selling tobacco products (as an ON CAMPUS venue–which they advertise on their website) is a sticking point for their ability to get permission from the university to accept Middletown cash

  • Guest

    Is alcohol sold in any establishments on university property? – As far as I know it isn’t and if the university is going to be consistent in upholding a policy against substance use, I don’t think it would be far from that policy to ban the sale of cigarettes on campus. Particular since, unlike alcohol, cigarettes aren’t good even in moderation. Honestly, I’d love to see the university ban cigarette smoking in general on campus. I know it would be extreme and an unpopular decision but since secondhand smoke is a mental health issue (and generally aggravating from my point-of-view), I think it would be a good decision. I completely understand the disagreements that might follow from this post but I thought I’d add my two-cents on that.

    • wes-smoker

      Too bad just stopping the sale of cigarettes at neon won’t have any effect on the number of smokers/levels of “secondhand smoke.” We’ll just go buy them somewhere else.

  • Gabe

    Two issues to bring up:
    ” I would think that “Diversity University” entails the celebration or at least the acceptance of any lifestyles that students may have as long as they do not hurt others.”
    However, isn’t second-hand smoke harmful to other people? Smoking isn’t completely an isolated activity. And @weird_vibes brought up that the water bottle ban was for the environment, whereas a cigarette ban impacts people’s bodies. Although not a whole lot, smoking does impact the environment— and yes, I do realize that compared to other emissions, smoking is not a huge green problem. But it’s there.

    • http://twitter.com/gottagosock purplesocks

      banning cigs from neon deli won’t cut down on secondhand smoke…

      if people are in support of this ban because of their worry of the danger of secondhand smoke, then they should be advocating for designated smoking areas and not a ban on the sale of tobacco products on Wesleyan owned property.

    • weird_vibes

      But c’mon. People smoke. You’re not going to avoid second hand smoke / smoke in the air just by banning cigarettes at Neon.
      It’s an empty symbolic gesture that is not going to accomplish the
      positive things it wants to accomplish (fewer smoking frosh, cleaner
      air[?], less second hand smoke), but definitely IS going to accomplish
      negative things (less business for Neon, fucking things up for
      non-student customers, inconveniencing the large population of
      wesmokers, making the university seem like it doesn’t trust its students
      to make their own decisions, etc.). Nicole admits that it won’t stop people from smoking. She seems very invested in the ‘power’ of symbols, but I am less optimistic, at least in this case. Also, if you’re going to have a symbol that represents “the
      ethics of Wesleyan’s institutional decision-making,” get a better
      fucking symbol. Do we really need to be worrying about cigarette
      smoking right now? Is this the most relevant issue?
      #teamleavethesmokersalone

      • clarifying

        It has nothing to do with not trusting students to make their own decisions. Everyone is still free to smoke (and people get away with smoking in tons of places that we aren’t technically allowed to–dorm rooms, within 25 feet of buildings, etc.). Again I will reiterate the point about Middletown cash helping Neon’s business. Cigarettes also have a relatively low profit margin compared to other goods (in the text of the resolution itself), thus, the possibility exists for replacing profit lost with another, equally if not more profitable good.

        To clarify symbols: we got another symbol too, this is adding to it. The first symbol and iteration of the notion that Wesleyan is not comfortable within its institutional priorities with profiting from tobacco sales is that we chose to go away from a manager for our endowment investments who was heavily invested in the tobacco industry. The thing is symbols only have meaning if we can make them consistent. By choosing not to invest in tobacco but still indirectly profiting through the terms of Neon’s lease, the initial action is thoroughly diluted. If you have a problem with the principle of Wesleyan not profiting from the sale of tobacco products, that is fine and you are free to express that. If the problem is with the symbol of not profiting from tobacco sales not being sufficient (again something the university is already attempting to move away from), that doesn’t follow.

  • anon

    “I would think that “Diversity University” entails the celebration or at least the acceptance of any lifestyles that students may have as long as they do not hurt others” The thing is, second hand smoke does hurt others naw mean?

    • Charlie

      People aren’t allowed to smoke inside and if second hand smoke is a big problem on campus (?) then the right approach would be to designate smoking/non smoking areas. This proposal has little to do with second hand smoke or would be a very indirect way of tackling that issue

      • anon

        Nobody follows the “no smoking inside” rules. And there’s no way they’ll ever be made to. Even the people who don’t smoke inside do it clustered around the doorways, so you have to breath it if you want to actually enter or exit a building. I also know some people with severe health issues who are sensitive to second hand smoke on people’s clothing.

        • Charlie

          Well this ban does almost nothing to change any of that. If people are facing those sorts of issues then it’d make much more sense to focus on policies that directly address them. I’m sure you can imagine a few.

          • anong

            What don’t you understand about, “and they’ll never be made to?” You think PSafe is going to be able to confiscate people’s cigarettes? At least making cigarettes harder to get will lower the amount of smoking, something many studies have demonstrated.

          • Charlie

            You’re right no rules concerning designated smoking/non smoking areas have ever been enforced successfully anywhere and by removing cigarettes from Neon Deli the issue of second hand smoke will disappear.

            A simple ticket, fine, or sjb point would work. That along with the social stigma that already controls all sorts of behavior.

            Again, while I realize my experiences aren’t representative I’d be interested to know where you’re having these issues with second hand smoke. It seems to me that worst case scenario you might have to smell it briefly on your way into a party. If it’s a bigger problem than I know of then I think it’s well worth tackling that problem directly (ah but that’s impossible).