Many more U.S. colleges are now instituting full smoking bans on campus. Driven ostensibly by health concerns, some critics say that the bans are an intrusion on personal liberty.

Perhaps, but “liberty” that sense is not really one with much legal meaning. States and institutions police lifestyle choices all the time as a way to improve public health. Still, the smoking ban represents an interesting, and probably not very positive, trend on college campuses: an increasing institutional involvement in personal choices coupled, oddly enough, with a rejection of real public spirit. Why do we care about someone else smoking? Aren’t there more important policies to address on college campuses?

According to an Associated Press piece:

Bans on use, advertising and sales of tobacco in all its forms are being enacted or considered at perhaps half of campuses nationwide, sometimes over the objections of student smokers, staff and faculty. The movement is driven by mounting evidence of the health risks of secondhand smoke, the reduced costs of smoke-free dorms and a drive to minimize enticements to smoke at a critical age for forming lifelong habits.

California’s state system will begin to bar tobacco use in 2013. A ban on use and advertising at the City University of New York system goes into effect in September, and the University of Missouri at Columbia is going smoke-free in 2014.

Now there’s not ultimately much of a problem here. Tobacco bans will discourage people from taking up smoking and cause even committed smokers to smoke less often. Sure it’s annoying for smokers, but it’s not really harmful. Campuses and other institutions ban many products within their walls: why not ban one that’s deadly?


It’s too early to tell if students or faculty at smoke-free colleges end up living, on average, longer and healthier lives, but campus environments, at least, are certainly already cleaner and more pleasant than they were in the 50s and 60s, back when people could smoke in class.

So the California’s state system and CUNY are banning campus smoking. Good for them. But in looking at the history of those institutions it’s not clear students there are much better off. You know what they prohibited at those schools in the 50s and 60s? Tuition.

The tuition prohibition probably had a much more positive effect on the general well being of students than the smoking prohibition ever can. Smoking-related illnesses only show up after many, many years of indulgence. The effects of debt occur immediately after students graduate.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer