Ban on campus sales violates student rights

Candy bars should not be sold on campus. They are bad for students’ health. Candy bars are a major contributor to obesity, which leads to heart disease, diabetes, and a myriad of other health conditions. The University should protect student health. They need to protect us from ourselves.

I find it hypocritical the University sells fattening candy bars on campus. If you look at all the research the University does on the harmful health effects of obesity, selling candy bars is working against everything the University is trying to study. The University promotes health via its nutritional science department, the Minnesota Obesity Center, and various other departments, and yet we allow sales of products anathema to this mission.

Come to think of it, pizza, hamburgers, and the sales of other greasy foods also need to be banned from campus as well. Soda pop should be banned, as it is a major culprit of tooth decay; to sell sugary cavity-causing foods goes directly against the mission of our dental school.

You might think this is silly argumentation, but it’s exactly the argumentation used to justify a proposal to ban of cigarette sales on campus. Two Boynton Health Service
committees are trying to push through legislation that would ban cigarette sales on campus. This ban would eliminate sales from the three stores on the Twin Cities campus: the St. Paul Student Center, West Bank skyway and Coffman Union (once it’s completed).

Gail Musolf, chairwoman of the Student Health Advisory Committee, has stated, “We’re not trying to take away students’ freedom. If you look at all the research the University does on the harmful effects
of tobacco, selling tobacco is working against everything the ‘U’ is trying to study. There are plenty of places people can walk off campus and buy cigarettes” (“Campus tobacco sale ban sought,” Nov. 14).

To claim “selling tobacco is working against everything the ‘U’ is trying to study” does not justify this ban. This reasoning has no purchase ñ it is merely an expression that the administration feels embarrassed by tobacco sales, and this ban would be better for its public relations. Apparently the University is all too willing to sacrifice its student’s rights to this end.

Furthermore, no matter if these organizations are “trying” or not, they are indeed taking away students’ freedom. A proposal to ban cigarette sales on campus specifically precludes the freedom of choice from students. Students’ autonomy should be respected. We can make our own decisions; we don’t need some committee making them for us.

This ban is like a father putting the cookie jar on top of the fridge so his child can’t reach it, because it would spoil the child’s dinner. But we are not children, and these committees are not our parents. They might have good intentions, but the path to hell is paved with good intentions. They can proclaim how much they care about student health, and they can cite all the scary statistics they want about how bad tobacco is, but both appeals are irrelevant. A ban on tobacco sales would violate student liberty by taking our choices away from us, and let our choices be made by paternalistic committees.

The reasoning for this ban is contradictory. Supporters say banning cigarettes on campus would help students to cease smoking. They also say the ban isn’t removing student choice since they can “easily” get cigarettes from nearby off-campus venders. They also claim smoking is addictive; thus, like all addictions, its obvious a small inconvenience isn’t going to deter smokers from smoking in any degree. My question is this: if the ban isn’t going to prevent students from smoking, then why is it being so lobbied so heavily?

It seems to me, the ban is being pushed because cigarette sales on campus is egg on the face of the University administration. When they are seeking money from donors, and recognition from other institutions for their health research, the fact cigarettes are sold at the University is an embarrassment. If tobacco sales were prohibited, the University could say how unified and determined it is in its health research and promotion. Thus, prohibiting tobacco sales would be great politics.

I wrote an article on this proposed ban last year (“Our freedom goes up in paternalistic smoke,” Dec. 6), when the proposal was in its germinal stage. Later that year, I was invited by Edward Ehlinger, Twin Cities Student Unions Committee chairman and Boynton director, to participate on a student panel regarding smoking on campus.

At this Tobacco Summit, a lot of older people from various organizations concerned about the societal health effects of tobacco were expressing good will about student health. However, in my relations with these anti-smoking advocates, I began to feel “concern for students” might not be the only motivating concern for curbing smoking on campus. It also seemed it would look good on the resumes of the sponsoring organizations and the individuals involved, and would result in a lot of mutual “back-patting.” In essence, the move to curb tobacco-use was, again, great politics.

Besides benefiting the political careers of University administrators and various organizations, there is no benefit to this ban. Smokers are going to continue to smoke, no matter if they have to buy cigarettes off campus. In addition, this ban would unfairly burden campus merchants. Student Unions estimate they could lose $60,000 in revenue from this ban. A significant portion of this revenue is not even from the tobacco products themselves, but from the products sold during their purchase.

There is no reason for this ban. Committees, no matter how benevolent they might deem themselves, should not be allowed to treat us like children. And, no matter how unsavory tobacco sales are to the University and various committees, this does not justify trampling on the rights of students.

Matthew Brophy’s column appears alternate weeks. He welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]