UM to Ban Smoking on Most of Campus

UM is becoming a no-smoking zone:

the University of Miami is launching the first step in a three-year initiative to make our Coral Gables campus smoke free. Starting on September 1, 2011, smoking will only be permitted in designated areas on University property. Additional information on our new policy, including a map with the designated smoking locations, is available at www.miami.edu/smokefree.

The inside of the Law School buildings has been nonsmoking for many years. What this means for me is that I’ll be able to eat lunch in the Law School’s wonderful quadrangle, known as “The Bricks”, without having to keep moving to avoid being downwind of some smoker.

Incidentally, the news came via an emailed letter from UM President Donna Shalala which began like this,

To the University of Miami Community:

If we only knew then what we know now.

We believe that wisdom and smarter choices come with time and experience. Warning signs are often the collective voice of hard-earned lessons …

It turned out to be about the dangers of cigarettes, but I hope I can be forgiven for thinking at first that the letter was going to be about something else.

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31 Responses to UM to Ban Smoking on Most of Campus

  1. Just me says:

    Thumbs down. I am a non-smoker, but am also completely opposed to outdoor smoking bans. My understanding (and of course I may be wrong) is that outdoor smoking poses no significant threat to the health of others. Therefore, it seems that the only complaints one can level against outdoor smoking are: 1) increased probability of littering (for which I suggest more trash cans/ash trays and stricter rules against littering); and 2) that cigarette smoke “smells bad” (I agree that it does). If that’s all you have, its not enough for me. It is the equivalent of banning smelly people, banning the use of incense, or banning the use of perfumes that Donna Shalala and Michael Froomkin don’t like.

    • This is a private rule, by a private owner, on its private property. Do you think UM should be forbidden from making such a rule, or just that it is an error of judgement. If the latter, how is it different from, say, a noise limit?

      • Just me says:

        No, UM should not be forbidden from making the rule. It is just a crumby rule.

        It is different than a noise limit in that most noise limits that I am aware of do not discriminate based on the type of noise, only the volume. So long as the noise meets the set decibel level the noise is banned irrespective of whether the noise is classical music, rap with offensive lyrics, or a motorcycle with a loud exhaust. The outdoor smoking ban treats different smells differently based on the tastes of one group over another, not the potency of the odor. It is not all that different than banning a particular perfume simply because the school administration doesn’t like the brand.

  2. Smoke 'Em If Ya Got 'Em says:

    “This is a private rule, by a private owner, on its private property.” Interesting choice of words, Professor – this is precisely the justification raised by thousands of hotel/restaurant/bar/etc. proprietors to justify segregation for many years. Of course, thanks to our 20/20 hindsight vision, we all know race is a protected class, while smokers are not (yet). But that wasn’t always the case, and in fact has only been the case for a very small part of our country’s history. So be careful how you justify an ill-conceived, ill-executed rule – it may well eventually be overturned, as well it should be.

    Ultimately, I hope UM will realize that the way to make itself a premier university is to concentrate on the sine qua non of universities – namely, academics – rather than on such nonsensical window dressing.

    • I wonder if commentators would post stuff like this in public if they had to take responsibility for what they say — like I do — by signing their names.

      The two sets of cases are not remotely similar. In the case of attempting to suppress smoking, the U is engaged in a public health project that it — being parentalist — believes is at least as much in the interest of the students and employees who may as a result smoke less as it is in the interests of those who, like me, find even outdoor smoke very unpleasant.

      The comparison to racial discrimination is silly. Smokers are not a class in the same sense as protected classes in law, for those classes are comprised of people with a trait that cannot be changed (e.g. national origin, race), or that we as a society do not believe people should be compelled or even encouraged to change (e.g. gender, religion). Smoking is either something a person can choose, or that to the extent that they are addicted is a public health issue; it is not an attribute of personhood.

  3. Smoke 'Em If Ya Got 'Em says:

    If the U is so committed to the health of its students and employees, perhaps instead of taking up a cause celebre (that’s actually pretty out-of-date, come to think of it), maybe it should focus on other on-campus activities that have an even more deleterious effect on public health. We could start by banning cars (noxious pollution; deadly weapons), and then follow by restricting activities such as unprotected sex to certain areas of the dormitories. These things, to name but two, surely represent more of a threat than smoking.

    As for smoking being a choice, sure, at the end of the day, it most certainly is (just as it is your choice – a choice you refuse to make – to walk away from someone smoking near you – but I digress). However, in the same vein, folks that are addicted to other drugs like alcohol and illicit substances DO receive a variety of legal protections. Different from a class based upon an immutable characteristic? Sure. Any less deserving of legal protections to prevent discrimination based upon an addiction/illness? No way, Jose.

    In the end, I think a little common sense and rational discourse can lead to a mutually acceptable solution to the “problem” of smoking on campus, if such really exists. But when we immediately turn to the dictatorial “let’s make a rule” solution, it is a tyranny of the majority, not an improved learning environment for all concerned, that results.

  4. Just me says:

    I don’t buy the public health argument either. First, it is not UM’s place to interfere in people’s personal health decisions. But even if it were, wouldn’t UM then be under an obligation to ban drinking alcohol on campus? It has been some time, but I’ve had more than my share of beers on that campus without consequence. How about McDonald’s cheeseburgers and delivery peperoni pizza? One could make a strong public health argument for banning those as well. How about mandatory annual physicals for all students and employees? I don’t see UM doing any of that simply because it is not their place to do it.

    UM, and other universities, should stick to academics and leave people’s personal bad habits alone. At most, they should offer classes on the subject and/or make literature available on the health hazards. Beyond that, butt out.

    • It is important to distinguish between (1) things one has an obligation to do, and (2) things one has a discretion to do, and (3) things one should not do. Arguments of the form “Not 1 thus 3″ are based on a false dichotomy.

      Further, I personally reject all arguments of the form “You should not do this (2) unless you also do all these other (2)’s”. That is an argument for quietism and passivity since no one can do everything. There are many discretionary good deeds you, I, or the U might do. That it chooses to do some is praiseworthy. One might reasonably ask you, me, or it to do more. But I think it is deeply wrong to criticize one good deed on the grounds that other good deeds were not done also. (One might, however, reasonably argue that this good deed was not a good use of resources that might more profitably have been used for that better deed. But that’s a different sort of claim and requires some facts and evidence.)

      As regards the various examples in the posts above, readers may be shocked to learn that in fact the U does some version of many of these things. It has an extensive sex ed program for undergrads; there have even been free condom distributions for undergraduates. The U routinely nags employees to lose weight, eat right, and stop smoking. It provides financial incentives to monitor health information, and to lose weight (lower gym fees if you exercise regularly or are in a weight loss program plus silly competitions), and stop smoking (lower health insurance costs). It doesn’t alas pay us to eat right, but I gather there are healthy cooking classes somewhere

      Universities are traditionally seen as being in loco parentis for undergrads, or at least partly responsible for them morally and practically. Once upon a time we even spoke of universities as having a role in shaping character. I think encouraging young people not to smoke, or to quit, is fully in tune with the university’s mission to educate the whole person, and to give young people a solid foundation for the rest of their (we hope long and healthy) lives.

      There might in some cases described above be issues if the U were a public institution. But we are not. It is certainly permissible, and IMHO right, that the University use not just its moral suasion and education but also some gentle incentives to push people in the directions of healthy life choices. Of course there can come a point where these actions might be too extreme or too oppressive. But I don’t think we’re there, or in most cases even close.

  5. Just me says:

    Not to beat a dead horse here, as it is clear we simply disagree on whether or not this is a good deed (as you see it) or annoying intrusion and PC bologna (as I see it), but there is a difference between the instant policy and the “various examples” you mentioned. The difference is the banning of a legal activity. You say that UM “nags,” “provides financial incentives,” and offers classes designed to promote behaviors that UM favors or to curb behaviors it does not favor. However, UM does not ban poor eating habits on campus, mandate that undergraduates wear condoms in the dorms, etc.

  6. Smoke 'Em If Ya Got 'Em says:

    If the U’s actions were truly motivated by a genuine concern for the health, safety, and welfare of its community, wouldn’t it have made more sense to focus on those activities that are more harmful than smoking? Again, I point out automobiles and unprotected sex as but two examples of instrumentalities/behaviors that, if modified/eliminated altogether, would surely have a much greater positive impact than banning smoking would. I am not saying that smoking shouldn’t be regulated/banned if these other things have not been so regulated/banned first. But I am pointing out that to say the smoking rule/ban is motivated by a paternalistic concern is disingenuous, at best.

    As you yourself have noted in your original post, you don’t wish to be downwind of some smoker while trying to enjoy your midday repast. And THAT is what’s really going on here – far from a concern over the vague “public health,” it is rabid anti-smokers who are driving this bus for their own convenience and pleasure. Again, I inquire whether a little common sense and courtesy might not solve whatever “problem,” in theory, might exist with smokers. Have you tried asking someone if they wouldn’t mind smoking near an ashtray towards the sides of the Bricks, as opposed to right next to you and your luncheon? You might be amazed how far a simple request might go if only you’d have the sense to try it, rather than dictate (through a mandate) how others should conduct their lives.

    • Actually, some people are nice about; others are not. Plus the wind shifts.

      Cars are an unfortunate necessity for many of those living off campus given the low quality of local public transport. Yet even here the U has actually done some of what you want. Freshman, who are guaranteed a dorm room, are no longer given on-campus parking in an effort to discourage cars. Instead we have some ZipCars on campus.

      As for the more general point of who has the default right, I have never believed that any polluters should have the default right to pollute and that those downwind or downstream should either fend for themselves or bribe them to stop. I do recognize that the Coase Theorem teaches us that in a world of zero transactions costs we’ll get the same optimal amount of pollution regardless of whether we organize property rights to create an endowment to pollute or to be free of it. This not true in practice, however, since we do have substantial transactions costs (and often no market at all). Plus it ignores — as economics so often does — wealth effects/ welfare consequences.

      Banning unprotected sex on campus would, I suspect, be hard to monitor. If a public university tried such a rule it would undoubtedly be unconstitutional under some form of a reverse Griswold rule. This strongly differentiates it from most if not all of the other examples.

      Although private universities are not bound by Constitutional constraints, I think it’s good practice for us not to do things that would infringe a core constitutional right if done by a public university unless we have an excellent reason for it and I’m not aware of any data suggesting we have a public health emergency on our hands. (But I haven’t looked.)

  7. Vic says:

    “…I think it’s good practice for us not to do things that would infringe a core constitutional right if done by a public university unless we have an excellent reason for it…”

    The mantra of people everywhere who want everyone to live by THEIR values. The problem with such thinking is that eventually it can only be enforced at the point of a gun.

    A lot of VERY smart and respected people have had a lot of stupid ideas that have cost the lives of many, many millions – and I’m not even talking about Communists or Nazis here. But at the time, lots of other smart sheep thought that their betters knew what was best for them and for other people whom they had never met, so that sat back and submitted. I don’t defend smokers. I think it’s a nasty habit that I don’t want to be around. But I no more want some right-thinker banning it that I want some OTHER right-thinker banning my enjoyment of a good single malt, or a big fatty ribeye.

    And Michael, you need to stop getting OFFENDED personally by everyone that has a different viewpoint than your own. Smoke ‘Em If Ya Got ‘Em said nothing in his initial post that you should be offended by. He merely disagrees with your nanny-state philosophy, as do a lot of people. I think you’d be better served by trying to appreciate the idea that not everybody wants ANYONE telling them they are too fat, or smoke too much, or don’t vote for the right people. If you can’t stand disagreement, then get off the Internet. Seriously.

    • Comparisons of anti-smoking rules to racism (e.g. “this is precisely the justification raised by thousands of hotel/restaurant/bar/etc. proprietors to justify segregation for many years“) are not only stupid but offensive because they attempt to trivialize a great evil.

      In my book, anti-smoking rules fall into the same class of infringement on liberty as parking rules and are somewhat less of a threat than zoning rules, which actually are more vulnerable to abuse.

      • Smoke 'Em If Ya Got 'Em says:

        For the record, I was not comparing anti-smoking rules to racism. I was pointing out that the justification you cite as support for such rules (summary: Private people should be able to do whatever they want on private property) is exactly the same as the justification cited by supporters of segregation. It’s wrong as applied to segregation, and it’s wrong as applied to subjugating any group of people.

        I find it both stupid and offensive that you cannot seem to understand the point being made, so let’s call it a day, shall we?

        • Just me says:

          wow…you can’t just call someone’s reasoning stupid and offensive and then ask them to call it a day. Also, while you and I agreed on our conclusion, the segregation example you used was bogus. Being race is something you are born with and cannot change. Smoking is a choice that is in your control. BIG DIFFERENCE. Smoking laws and segregation laws don’t belong in the same conversation – they just deal with things that are too different.

        • *I* don’t believe people should be able to do *whatever* they want on private property, and I’ve never suggested that. I do support zoning, for example. I did think “just me” would take the libertarian view, so I was trying to make clear the nature of his/her objection.

          My point was that *if* you take the libertarian view, this should be unobjectionable.

          If you don’t take the libertarian view, then the equivalent question would be whether there is some rule of public policy that would forbid UM as landowner from making this rule.

          And if we agree there is not, then we’re back to the question of, given that the rule is perfectly legal, is it wise? I think it clearly is wise; but also think that’s the issue that might be debated — but the ground for that debate would not have much reference to law, and most of the appeals to it, or to legal concepts pulled out of context, have been obfuscatory at best.

      • Vic says:

        Well Michael, I think you saw what you WANTED to see in those statements, but it’s probably not worth arguing over.

        However, your point about trivialization is absurd and clearly you don’t actually think this way – or at least apply that standard consistently.

        I seem to recall various occasions when we went back and forth about you calling some conservative a Nazi, or making a comparison to Nazis, either directly, or by posting some link to do the dirty work for you.

        Don’t you think calling, for example, Glen Beck, whatever you might think of him, a “Nazi” or invoking Hitler would, under your stated standard, trivialize what happened under the Nazis? I’d say that as awful as Beck has ever been, on his worst day, by ANYONE’S standard, he has not even approached mass murder and attempted genocide (for starters). So obviously, by your stated standard, this comparison, which you’ve made on numerous occasions – because we’ve had this discussion before – trivializes Naziism.

        But you don’t really mean to do that obviously. I don’t think that even in jest you have any desire to trivialize the Nazis. But what this is really (going back to my first post) is an application of your REAL standard:

        “…I think it’s good practice for us not to do things that would infringe a core constitutional right if done by a public university unless we have an excellent reason for it…”

        The standard demonstrated by you, and inherent in that quote of your words, is that what is deemed “right” can be modified by one with an “excellent reason” for doing so. So a right to be left alone in trivial matters (whatever its application on private property) can be freely abridged so long as someone has an excellent reason for doing so. The problem is that what is really being trivialized here is not segregation, but the very concept of rights. Your argument depends upon the proposition that what people can do, what their rights are, is to be decided by someone with an “excellent reason” rather an objective standard. That was the very argument made by the segregationists (who felt they had an excellent reason – whatever WE might think of it). The only reason the “excellent reason” failed is because they lost the power to enforce what it justified. “Excellent reason” is just double-speak for “what I think you should do,” as there is no requirement for the “excellent reason” to have any objective excellence, just enforcement power. (Which is itself a further problem since those who believe in big Government, such as yourself, only REALLY believe in big Government when people with your ideals are in charge of it.)

        The thing with rights is that they are completely meaningless if they are GRANTED by those in power. Those aren’t rights, they are license. When Government gnaws away at trivial liberty interests, and gives private parties the distinct idea that it’s OK for them to do it as well, it trains us all as sheeple and it shows contempt for the very concept of rights, as does stating that an “excellent reason” is all that’s necessary. The University is doing it because they know they can get away with it and it makes them feel righteous, which is always a plus. They get away with it because lots of people agree with it subjectively, and the right to smoke, eat fatty foods, drink, etc. aren’t “real rights” anyway…

        • I may be wrong, but I believe the only person or group I have compared to a Nazi here or elsewhere with any regularity (or indeed at all?) are certain TV propagandists and especially Sean Hannity, who reminds me strongly of Goebbels. This is because of their ‘big lie’ approach to the truth, plus their use of eliminationist rhetoric regarding their political opponents. I do believe this is an invitation to public violence, and that we’ve already seen some of what that brings.

          I don’t think that trivializes the Nazis, I think that’s what an ugly history warns us about. And I think that keeping in mind the lessons from that history is important. Indeed it has been a theme here since one of the first posts on this blog.

          I have on some occasions called some people’s actions fascistic, which is bad enough, but there is a difference between fascists and Nazis, in that while the Nazis were fascists, not all fascists are or were Nazis. Italy’s fascists under Mussolini being a prime example. That’s bad in a different way.

          As for the supposed similarity between justifications for the smoking ban and segregation that you keep asserting, I think when you yourself in a hole you should stop digging yourself deeper into the pit. Here, the U is the regulator; there is no issue as to whether the state will come in an impose or override the private regulation. For a private university to use the standard “it’s good practice for us not to do things that would infringe a core constitutional right if done by a public university unless we have an excellent reason for it” does not infringe civil rights. The whole conversation would be different in a public institution.

          Civil rights are, in the main, rights against the government. We tolerate a great deal from private groups that we wouldn’t tolerate from the state, and rightly so. To navigate one’s choices with that in mind is not to undermine civil rights but rather to celebrate them.

          (Segregation, by the way, was very much state-supported until the 1960s at least, and significantly later than that in some parts of this country. The use of state power to dismantle that regime was in part justified by the previous abuse of state power to create it.)

          • Vic says:

            With all due respect Michael, I’m not sure you are reading without your biases determining what you are reading, to the detriment of the actual words. You seem to attribute things to people that were never said or even intended. And your literal dial is always up on 11. It makes it hard to have a discussion with you.

            • Let me see if I have this straight:

              1) I attribute things to people they didn’t say “to the detriment of the actual words”

              and, wait for it …

              2) I’m too literal.

              Some contradiction there?

            • Just me says:

              See here (along with the “Nazi” and “segregation” discussions) is where things go wrong. You and smoke’em if you got’em can’t win – not because you are wrong on the issue of discussion (i.e. the smoking ban) – but because the arguments asserted are so half baked an ill conceived that the two of you lose credibility. Stick to the issue in debate (smoking on campus), avoid ad hominem attacks, try not to contradict your self, and avoid at all costs discussion of race and/or Nazis (those two issues are too loaded and should only be raised as examples in the rarest of occasions).

              Happy Friday.

            • Smoke 'Em If Ya Got 'Em says:

              Ad hominem attacks? I was only responding in kind to Michael, who uses words like “stupid,” “offensive,” and “silly” to describe views that don’t mesh with his own and the holders of those views. As one commentator noted, I said nothing that should have offended Michael – IF he bothered to read/comprehend a post that disagreed with his opinion. Unfortunately, he appears so wed to his (wrong, IMHO) strongly-held views and beliefs that he is completely intolerant of others.

              Sad, really.

            • Just me says:

              It is actually Vic that is guilty of the ad hominem attacks, but the advice I offered stands. The topic of this discussion is, and should remain, smoking on UM campus, not whether Michael is grouchy, myopic, lacking in sense of humor, or even a jolly good guy.

              To avoid further digression from the topic, I will avoid further comment on this thread. I have said all I have to say about the ban on smoking on UM campus (the rule is crumby) and have nothing further to add.

            • Vic says:

              “Let me see if I have this straight:

              1) I attribute things to people they didn’t say “to the detriment of the actual words”

              and, wait for it …

              2) I’m too literal.

              Some contradiction there?”

              Actually it’s not at all contradictory, but you are seeing what you want to see once again. What I said you did is read a post with a preconceived bias (based on any number of obvious things), interpret the post through that filter, then respond as if the original poster literally said what you accuse him of saying – when it is at least as apparent that he/she meant nothing of the sort. One follows the other – no contradiction at all. You do it all the time and it makes it exceedingly difficult to have a debate over anything with you.

  8. Smoke 'Em If Ya Got 'Em says:

    Although I believe that the rule itself is ill-conceived, if indeed the U is going to forge ahead with this course of action I’m curious as to what valid justification is being used to support it. Public health concern can’t be it, for any number of reasons (there are less obtrusive ways of serving this supposed “public health” notion; other, graver threats to public health are all but ignored, etc.). Similarly, it can’t be “This is a private rule, by a private owner, on its private property,” because in any number of contexts (segregation, zoning, and plenty more) there are limitations on what a private owner can do on their own property.

    All that leaves is “we must placate those zealous, rabid, anti-smokers, who – because they are holier-than-thou and know what’s best – get to impose their will upon the community.” Personally, I do not believe that this is a valid justification for imposing draconian restrictions on a perfectly legal activity. It would make more sense to say “Henceforth, there shall be no smoking on campus in electrical closets, boiler rooms, elevator machine rooms, etc. due to the safety hazard this presents.” That is legitimate. It might also make sense to say “As a temporary, emergency measure, smoking will no longer be permitted during the current drought conditions due to the extreme fire hazard.” Of course, it’s unlikely that South Florida would ever have drought conditions leading to fire hazards as would, say, the Southwest, but you get the point.

    Yet again, it seems like the easiest way to address this faux issue is to use a little common sense and good judgment. If I keep kosher, I don’t go into non-kosher eating establishments on campus to grab a bite. If I don’t enjoy classical music, I wouldn’t go to a symphonic performance on campus. And if I don’t smoke, I either try to avoid places where people are smoking, or – if a shared space – I ask politely if folks would kindly refrain from lighting up, or if they would do so elsewhere.

  9. S.E. says:

    Frankly, it would not be possible for me to care any less about the health or personal habits of any of the faculty or students on campus that I do not have a personal relationship with. However, as someone’s smoking does effect me – admittedly to a fairly trivial degree – I fully support excising this filthy practice from campus, although I doubt the university has the resources or inclination to actually enforce it to the extent necessary to completely rid campus of the practice. I’m pretty sure we had a ban on boosters giving student athletes money as well, and we see how that went.

    Moreover, the university conducted a fairly extensive notice and comment period before implementing this rule, and it seems that the student body as a whole was in favor. Democracy must count for something, no?

    • Smoke 'Em If Ya Got 'Em says:

      I agree with S.E., in that it is doubtful that the university will completely eradicate smoking from the entire campus. In addition to the noted lack of resources and inclination, perhaps those students/employees who do choose to smoke will band together and engage in some peaceful civil disobedience. In time, these things may just help the U see the error of its ways and result in some positive change. However, the likelihood that the ban will not be enforced, or may eventually be rescinded, is small consolation to those whose legal activities are the ones being forbidden, if only in name.

      I’m glad the U solicited comments before deciding to adopt this draconian policy, and of course I agree that democracy must count for “something.” But where, precisely, do we draw the line? If a group of students/employees (clearly not satisfied with imposing their will on smokers) next decides to tackle the pernicious issue of those people who choose to wear fragrances (perfume; cologne; deodorant; scented soaps/shampoos; you get the point), and a democratic vote is taken that results in the student body as a whole agreeing that a fragrance ban is wise, do you really think this would be a good idea? A perfectly legal activity, that some admittedly find objectionable, would be banned from the U after a notice and comment period. Really?! Again, I propose a more rational solution – namely, if you are offended by scents for whatever reason (allergies; you don’t care for the particular scent worn by a particular individual; etc.), you can either re-situate yourself to a location where the scent no longer offends, or you can politely ask the offender to re-situate themselves.

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  11. XO says:

    I’ll still be smoking on the bricks. I won’t be rude about it. But the bricks are outside and this rule is bullshit.

  12. Smoke 'Em If Ya Got 'Em says:

    So let me get this straight: the smoking area is now in place – right by the parking lot. Shades of the caste system aside, is it fair/just (from a law and/or equity standpoint) to expose smokers to noxious car exhaust fumes, to say nothing of putting them in close proximity to (gasp!) Miami drivers, when all the former is trying to do is chill out for a few minutes?

    Separate but equal, anyone? Hell, come to think of it, UM’s new policy doesn’t even reach THAT sad level!

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