Respect right to choose tobacco

Freedom to choose: It is a powerful right. The beliefs of a few should never dictate what is and is not available to many. This is a basic principle of an open market and on a campus where students change majors an average of five times and support a plethora of coffee houses and Chinese restaurants, this right should be particularly understood and protected. In spite of this, some University students fail to see others’ freedom to choose as a virtue and view it rather as a vice.

A recent outcry among students is demanding the reining and restriction of faculty rights. The disputed issue is not a public matter but rather is a University retirement plan that allows faculty to choose where their money is invested, namely a plan that makes large investments in Phillip Morris.

Students heading the movement against this plan argue that the Philip Morris institution is immoral, and feel that all faculty investment plans should be “socially responsible” as some are already. Students claim these plans uphold the morals promoted to students on campus, and that some faculty members are not aware they are investing in such a company.

Although available, the “socially responsible” plan is currently not in the top five selected by faculty. Whether or not students like it, faculty members need to produce retirement funds sufficient to their financial needs, and “sin industries” such as tobacco and alcohol produce. The financial gain through investments in these industries is consistently higher than other markets. Faculty members are also fully capable of understanding and researching their own investments.

The moral issues students have are irrelevant; faculty members deserve investment freedom, and students should have absolutely no input in how professors’ money can be invested. Students might object, but conversely many partake in activities contrary to instructors’ morals to fund their education and other financial needs, and there is no interference. If the University attempted to limit or regulate the ways in which students earn money, there would be outrage against the injustice. Professors are unlikely to react to this volatility, but students should understand that faculty members have no responsibility to accommodate to students’ personal beliefs.

In addition to meddling in professors’ financial issues, some students and campus organizations are also lobbying to restrict the products campus merchants can offer students. Two Boynton Health Service committees are working with students in an effort to ban campus tobacco sales, arguing they work against University-conducted research on tobacco’s harmful effects. Proponents of this ban also cite the 60 percent rise in smoking among college students as a valid motivation, believing this ban will help lower the number of smokers on campus.

To see the futility of this measure, one needs look no further than the outside of any residence hall. In 1992 the University mandated all buildings become smoke-free, yet the substantial crowd of students found outside any time of day, cigarettes in hand, even in adverse weather conditions is a testament to the tenacity of smokers. Tobacco is legal in the United States: All those 18 and older have a right to it. Even more readily they have access to information on tobacco’s effects. If they choose to smoke regardless of the dangers, it is their right and they will obtain tobacco where it is sold, convenient or not. Its availability on campus, however, does not encourage non-smokers to start. In the West Bank skyway, where tobacco is currently sold, some students who frequent the store are not even aware of its availability. Perhaps tobacco companies target college-age people, but campus tobacco vendors do not actively advertise; for the most part cigarettes and other tobacco products are kept hidden behind the counter.

The assertion this measure does not impose upon smokers’ rights to tobacco might be merited, because they can purchase it off campus, but entirely overlooks the financial implications on campus merchants. Student Unions estimate they could lose $60,000 in revenue from tobacco and tobacco-related product sales. Other vendors could suffer as well; if a student has to leave campus for cigarettes, they might as well grab lunch somewhere near the store, pulling student dollars away from campus. There are enough commuters already enrolled at the University – there is certainly no need to push more students to desert the campus area.

Smoking is a dangerous habit, but the fact remains it is legal. New findings and studies on tobacco effects in recent years have been inefficient in deterring smokers, so it is unreasonable to believe use of tobacco products will be hindered by this measure. Additionally, smokers and others do not attempt to limit other students’ habits, bad or good.

Imagine the reaction if there was a move to ban coffee from campus because of its adverse health effects, or pizza because of University students’ unhealthy eating habits. This is just what is being done to smokers and it should not be allowed.

Students’ actions against investing in tobacco companies and their efforts to improve the health of students are well intentioned, but excessive when they infringe others’ rights. They need to recognize the boundaries of University restrictions and see that they have no jurisdiction over what people do in their private lives. Investing in “sin industries” and using tobacco are not ideal in everyone’s point of view, but as long as these actions do not hinder anyone’s rights, they should be protected at the University.