Commentary: Decisions, decisions

Students returning to campus this semester may have noticed the new “Tobacco Free Campus” signs that have been strategically placed at various smoker hangouts around campus. These new signs present an irritating obstacle to overcome for some, and for others, represent a positive change in the interests of public health.

While the policy passed without a significant amount of protest from tobacco users on campus, the question remains whether or not the university has a valid interest in enacting this type of regulation on campus.

In the interest of cost reduction and expanding research, the university is relatively justified in the implication of this policy. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), donates to UTSA and in the interest of staying ahead of Texas Administrative Code, which requires tobacco free zones around buildings housing CPRIT projects. As an employer, the university has a stake in the health of its employees in the interest of reducing insurance costs.

With that said, a public institution of higher learning, while bound by the limitations of cost and funding, should be primarily interested in the enrichment and education of its students. College should serve as an informative experience in the most pivotal time in students’ lives and ultimately prepare students to face adulthood by learning to deal with the consequences of their decisions.

The policy statement explains that the ban is in recognition of UTSA’s “social responsibility to promote the health, well-being, and safety of UTSA students, faculty, staff and visitors.” The public health question undoubtedly calls for smoking bans in order to prevent non-smokers from being exposed to second hand smoke.

Smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes, which are included in the ban’s scope, are not effectual in the arena of public health and fall onto the responsibility of individual choice. It is interesting that UTSA would invoke a tobacco ban that includes electronic cigarettes which do not in fact contain any tobacco.

As an institution which cites its desire to promote healthy lifestyles, it would seem that simply depriving campus goers the choice does not effectively advance or cultivate an independent­­­ desire for individual change on anything more than a superficial level at best. Providing students with the resources to make informed decisions for themselves would be a more effective use of university resources to create a long term impact on choices students make for themselves and the consequences they are prepared to accept.

Smoking and obesity sit as the two leading causes of preventable disease in the United States. In the past UTSA has seen it fit to take a more discretionary approach to their responsibility to promote healthy living on campus. In February 2012, UTSA was named the first institution of higher learning to be designated as a ¡Por Vida! healthy restaurant by the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. By providing students the option to eat healthier while on campus, UTSA allowed students to make these adult decisions that higher education should in theory be preparing us for. As a way to promote cost reduction and public health, UTSA found a way to address the obesity issue by giving students a choice.

While the decision has been made to move forward with this ban on campus, it remains important to understand that the university may not always choose the most appropriate route to promote the goals that they aim to meet. Students, faculty and members of the UTSA community must remember that it is their responsibility to always question and scrutinize the decisions that affect the daily lives of those on campus. They must determine whether a public institution has grounds to ban a substance that the United States government has deemed as legal.