Lights out: Campus smoking ban


Editor’s note: On Friday, March 1,  UT will become a 100 percent smoke-free campus. Some 15 signs currently designating smoking areas will have been removed by then. Below, Daily Texan columnists Roy Cathey and Zachary Adams take opposing stances on the smoking ban.


March 1 will mark the first day UT goes absolutely tobacco free by removing the 15 designated smoking areas around campus, and students — smokers and nonsmokers alike — are blowing steam over why exactly it’s happening. The University has made no secret of the $30 million in research grants (and up to $80 million in the future, according to UT’s press release) from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) that would have been lost if UT didn’t go tobacco free. This transparency has given rise to criticism around campus, with many accusing the University of making itself hostage to moneyed interests.

I’m holding the torch for UT’s decision to take the money and run. No one can deny the attractiveness of the CPRIT deal.

Still, critics remain. “I understand the politics behind it, but it doesn’t make it right,” said Nicholas Velez, a government and social work freshman who is against the campus smoking ban.

And although many other students with whom I spoke echoed Velez’s views, no one mentioned that they wanted to see UT miss out on the opportunity to get money that would aid cancer research. Despite the inconvenience of the ban, students seemed to understand that if UT wants to continue to be a bastion of cancer research, it’s going to need $30 million every now and then, which may end up coming from organizations that hold their recipients to a certain standard.

If cancer research isn’t worth the walk off campus for a cigarette, opponents of the ban can be optimistic about the low level of enforcement that UT implements to keep smoke out of the 40 Acres. The press release issued by the University announcing the ban last spring went so far as to suggest using signage and polite reminders to keep students and faculty from lighting up. I asked someone to put out a cigarette right outside the doors of the Belo Center for New Media, and the person was kind enough to take it to the sidewalk. Even boldly assuming that students will follow the rules, the policy’s jurisdiction ends the second you step off of campus.

 “I think it [the ban] is a pretty thin wrist slap,” said Rory Harmon, a government senior. “The only thing that it accomplishes is punishing the people who are so addicted to tobacco that they can’t bear the idea of not smoking between every single class and can’t run across the street for a smoke break.” Harmon himself is a tobacco user, and he criticizes the bill for its lack of conviction in lowering the amount of smokers enrolled at UT.

Whatever the true motive may be and whether people plan on following the rules, the result is clear: UT-Austin will call itself tobacco free. As someone who grew up in a cloud of cigarette smoke and hated every breath of it, I am proud to be enrolled. Many, myself included, think the smoking areas are a fair offering to smokers on campus, but the compromise seems microscopic in importance when compared to the millions of dollars in grant money that will be given to help forward cancer research. So, if ever you’re walking to the Drag for a drag, think of yourself as a martyr in the fight against cancer.

Cathey is a journalism sophomore from Dripping Springs.


The other day, I was relaxing behind Batts Hall on one of several benches under the big oak tree. I could overhear a conversation between a student and a professor having a cigarette on the bench next to me, but I tuned it out to surf the web and give my brain a break before my next class. However, the last thing the student said caught my attention: “You know these smoking areas are going away soon? What are you going to do after that?” she asked. “Just... still smoke?”

 “Yup!” the professor replied with a smile.

At that point, I realized I was sitting in a designated tobacco use area. What I had just overheard was puzzling. Why would they take away the few areas on campus where professors and students can smoke, and what difference will it make?

Last April, UT officially became a tobacco-free campus. However, the effects of this were minimal, as the University allowed designated smoking areas to remain present until March 1 of this year. When that day comes, students and faculty will no longer be permitted to use tobacco products anywhere on the grounds of the University. While UT seems well-intentioned in trying to discourage tobacco use, is it not students’ right to have somewhere on the 40 Acres where they can smoke?

My initial assumption was that the University was taking a progressive step in trying to discourage tobacco use because of its proven adverse effects. But I learned this issue wasn’t just about the University’s commitment to a “healthy and sustainable environment,” which, according to the UT website, is the primary reason for the policy. The true motivation is money.

UT admits on its website that “the impetus for accelerating our decision came in February 2012, when the Cancer Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced future funding of research would be contingent on certification of an entity’s adopted tobacco-free policies.” The explanation downplays this statement, however, arguing that the school has been on the track to stricter tobacco use policies since its initial ban on indoor smoking in 1991. Apparently, the $30 million a year in research funding from the CPRIT was just the final push. The website then goes to on to list the numerous and well-known health consequences of tobacco use, as well as its supposed financial burden on the state because of resulting health care costs and productivity losses.

Although this is a logically coherent argument, it by no means justifies a policy that is both invasive of students’ basic rights and incoherent with the core values of the University. This policy clearly violates students’ basic liberty to smoke if they please. They’ve already been confined to a few designated areas throughout campus, with most students and faculty complying gladly. But to restrict smoking anywhere on University property is disrespectful to a part of the UT community that has an undeniable right to exist.

Like the professor I overheard, many tobacco users will continue to smoke on campus unless this policy is strictly enforced, which is not likely. The UT website states, “The expectation is that persons will voluntarily comply with the policy.” This is an unrealistic expectation. Have most students not witnessed underage drinking and the use of other illicit substances on campus, even in spite of real consequences from the University and the state such as expulsion and arrest? And in the case of tobacco, UTPD doesn’t even have legal grounds to enforce the new rules. At the end of the day, this policy will be impossible to truly establish.

Besides that this policy will be ineffective, it has other significant implications. The University is establishing a precedent that it may regulate the lifestyle choices of students on campus, and more importantly, that students’ rights are secondary to the demands of research donors.

The University’s honor codes says that members of the University are expected to uphold its values with “respect toward peers and community.” While some will argue that second hand smoke is a risk to everyone, a recent study by Stanford University concludes that the risk posed by second hand smoke is insignificant about six feet from a lit cigarette, depending on the direction of the wind. The smoking sections don’t hurt anyone except the people using them, unless you choose to hang out in close proximity.

Unfortunately, the smoking ban has met with little resistance, most likely because many nonsmokers either support the policy or don’t really care about it. But I do. I think the University should respect the rights of its students — who pay to be here — to make their own lifestyle choices as long as those choices aren’t directly affecting others and are within the confines of the law. 

Adams is a government freshman from Aiea, Hawaii.