Smoking? You Must Be Joking…

November 5, 2011

Political Theory



Funny radio discussion to listen to as you read (PG-13): Smoking Ban- Audio.

On July 1st of 2011 the University of Michigan campus became officially smoke free.  Polite “No Smoking” signs cropped up on street corners and in the diag to remind everyone of the new policy.  I witnessed many smokers reduced to hiding behind buildings and dumpsters to get their nicotine fix.  Others, more indignant about this affront to their favorite vice, kept smoking loud and proud as if to challenge someone to approach them about it.

The night before the ban was to commence, hundreds of smokers gathered in the diag to light up one last time, creating what appeared to be a virtual human chimney of tobacco smoke.  From friends I heard a variety of opinions on the matter ranging from “finally, if I had gotten smoke blown in my face one more time I was gonna shove that cigarette down the person’s throat!” to “WTF, I’m gonna transfer to MSU if they don’t repeal this s*%t.”

This clean air initiative was set in motion after a campus wide poll revealed that a majority of the student body was in favor of a smoking ban.  Hopefully this course of social action rings bells in your head of earlier discussions of Mob Rule: a society where all decisions are made by will of the majority.  This means that as a minority, you will have absolutely no protection against the majority; they could kill you without cause if they wanted to.  At a University where diversity and the value of the minority are championed, how could such an affront to social equality be allowed?  This ban is clearly an infringement on the personal liberty of the smoking student body and staff.  However, to view the situation from this angle alone would lead me to (what I believe to be) an erroneous conclusion that this ban is unconstitutional.  Nothing is ever that simple.

John Donne once said that a man is not an island.  The profundity of this statement extends far beyond my purposes in this post, but the fundamental idea applies just the same.  When you light up in a public area, you are spreading over 60 carcinogenic compounds among potentially dozens of passersby.   These compounds have been identified in the clothing, hair, and pores of individuals left with the unpleasant odors and health consequences of a vice to which they do not subscribe (ACS-Secondhand Smoke).   In this case, the pleasure of one smoker costs the discomfort of many.

According to James Madison in Federalist Paper #10, a faction is defined as a group of citizens with interests contrary to the rights or interests of the community.  In this case, perhaps the faction can be defined as the smoking community on campus, whose interest in smoking is a detriment to the interests of the community.  Our community on this campus is on the cutting edge of medical research and education that has indicted tobacco smoking in masses of health problems.  Just as Madison suggests, UM has taken actions to remove the effects of this faction, not the beliefs or presence of the faction.  By sequestering smokers to off campus areas, I believe that the ill-effects of this faction on society have been reduced.

Do you believe that this ban was congruent with Madison’s suggestion for the peaceful coexistence with faction?  Or perhaps you agree more with the initial description of this ban as an example of deplorable Mob Rule that is full of hot air?

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One Comment on “Smoking? You Must Be Joking…”

  1. blevz Says:

    It seems interesting to me to characterize those that smoke as part of a faction as it would stand to reason that attempts to make a faction smaller through curtailment of liberties (as is happening in this case) should be rejected as they can do nothing but cause more anger within the dissenting faction. However, it seems like in the case of the smoking ban this might not be true. Attempts to rectify smoking via prevention and tobacco cessation programs might work to dispell the problems of the faction by actually getting rid of it altogether (or at least severely decreasing the number of problematic faction members).

    I think that the authors of the federalist papers would generally agree with the way that the Umich smoking ban was implemented. Not only was the faction of smokers included in the discussion but there are several exceptions to the policy (such as the ability to smoke on major thoroughfares) and helpful reminders (such as the IPhone app that uses gps to tell you where and where you can not smoke on campus) that make this policy seem pretty benign. No one is beheaded for smoking on campus, the worst punishment I’ve heard about so far is a sternly worded request to smoke elsewhere. Although this policy may be interpreted by some as an imposition on their liberty, it seems to me like its a slight nudge in the right direction by the University to take better care of your health.

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