The Board of Regents (BOR) of the University System of Georgia (USG) introduced a proposal to establish a Tobacco and Smoke-Free Campus Policy to go into effect July 1, 2014. Citing tobacco use as the leading cause of avoidable death, the BOR intends to prohibit the advertising, sale and use of all tobacco products on USG properties. While the BOR has good intentions of reducing tobacco exposure of users and nonusers alike, they go too far in regulating the decisions individual users’ make that impact no one but the users. Moreover, if the BOR wishes to protect student health, they are morally obligated to do so in a manner that infringes on personal autonomy as little as possible.
Consuming tobacco is indisputably bad for users’ health. More importantly, secondhand smoke, as well as being an annoyance, impacts the health of those around the smoker. Smokeless tobacco, however, does not, yet the BOR looks to ban all tobacco on its properties, eliminating the individual freedom to use all tobacco, including products that do not impact others.
Furthermore, if the BOR wishes to improve the air quality on campus, why does their policy also include bans on smoking in cars on campus? This restriction is unnecessary to improve health of non-users and unfairly violates the individual right to autonomy of students, faculty and staff.
There are alternatives to the BOR proposal that protect both the health of nonusers and the freedoms of users. Though current rules prohibit smoking within 25 feet of buildings, for example, these rules are not well-enforced. The BOR can compromise by designating clear smoking zones and enforcing them. If they insist on preventing secondhand smoke, the BOR could consider banning just smoking. This solution would maintain student freedoms and improve campus air quality.