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A recently proposed smoking ban on the campus of the University of Texas- Austin has raised some hotly contested debates. A ban on smoking and other tobacco products has been proposed by the university in reaction to a CPRIT (Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas) mandate that all institutions that receive funding for cancer prevention research must comply with its proposed ban on tobacco products or risk losing future funding. CPRIT, an institution created by the state of Texas in 2007, handed down the mandate on Feb. 2. The University of Texas, which has reportedly received over $30 million in contributions from CPRIT, stands to lose hundreds of millions if it does not comply. The fear of losing these funds has forced the University to implement a smoking ban.
The ban has far-reaching implications not just for students or faculty, but for the thousands of staff members employed by the university. Construction workers, cashiers at the union, janitors, and security would all be equally affected by this policy. With most of these employees working eight hour days with only a lunch break, it would be considerably more difficult for these employees to leave campus just for a smoke break.
As the debate lights up quicker than the cherry on a Camel Blue, some interesting issues have been raised. Though no one is going to argue against cancer prevention research being essential to improving our quality of life, the CPRIT mandate unilaterally affects the entire university, although only certain areas on campus are devoted to performing this research. In addition, smoking is only the visible culprit in the battle to fight tobacco addiction. The university has yet to address the issues of smokeless tobacco. What about nicotine gum and patches? These are tobacco products, and CPRIT has indicated that it wants its research institutions to be tobacco free, not necessarily just smoke free.
This proposed ban raises many questions. How will these policies be implemented? Will there be fines for smokers? The University claims that it is seeking to work with its students, staff, and faculty and that policies will be enforced via education, not fines, but how this will be carried out is vague. What will the education entail? Instead of fines will there be mandatory wellness classes? And what if one refuses the education?
The state dangling money in front of the university in an effort to force policy changes brings into question the possibility of this same tactic being employed in other areas. With tobacco being a legally purchased product what right does the campus have to enforce these policies in open air situations? If Coca-Cola gave $30 million dollars to the university but asked that the University of Texas to ban Pepsi products would this be somehow analogous? Or what if the State Institute on Wellness (speaking hypotheically, there is no such institution to my knowledge) decided that fast-food was a leading contributing factor to heart disease and that the university had to institute a ban on the consumption of fast food on campus?
Approximately 24,000 people die annually in the state of Texas from tobacco related health problems, making tobacco the number one cause of preventable deaths. Public institutions like the University of Texas do society a great service by conducting millions of dollars worth of research to combat the dangers of cancer. The debate rages on, but no matter what your opinion, come March 1st, it appears many UT smokers will be leaving their cigarettes at home.
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