The School of Social Sciences Dean’s Ambassadors Council hosted their Spring Hot Topics Debate on Thursday night, discussing the UC’s Smoking Policy as a violation of basic freedoms.
The debate, moderated by political science professor Louis DeSipio, was led by political science professor William Schonfeld and political science associate professor Mark Petracca. The night, which consisted of a speech and rebuttal from both parties, was then opened to questions from the audience and concluded with closing statements.
Schonfeld began by arguing the fact that it is legal to smoke in the United States. He said that although it is illegal to smoke marijuana in California, it is legal to smoke tobacco. Yet, Schonfeld pointed out that second hand smoke is prohibited on campus and in the residential areas such as Verano Place, an off-campus housing option for graduate students and families.
However, a possible reason for the UC’s policy, he proposed, is that the university is implementing the policy to protect students. But one question Schonfeld raised is the university’s actions.
“How far is it acceptable to go?” asked Schonfeld. According to Schonfeld, the university can only restrict a person’s basic right to freedom if their behavior impinges directly on someone else. “Here, this does not directly impinge on anyone. There are no grounds for curving that behavior,” he said.
Moreover, Schonfeld stated that the university is teaching students to violate rules. Not only is the prohibition of smoking an illegal act, but it is not going to stop people from smoking on university grounds. In addition, he claimed, that it is normal for cigarettes to be purchased and distributed on campus.
“We can’t, as a society that has certain democratic principles left, control these kinds of behaviors. By prohibiting smoking, all that we’re doing is teaching generations of people that silly rules should be violated,” Schonfeld said.
However, on the other end of the spectrum, Mark Petracca argued that there is no constitutional right to smoke.
“The argument that someone has a fundamental right fails because only certain rights are protected by constitution as fundamental, and smoking just isn’t one of them,” Petracca said.
Instead, the only exception to privacy interests protected by the United States constitution includes marriage, contraception, family relationships, and the rearing and education of children. With the data Petracca proposed, he focused more on the negative impact of second hand smoking. Petracca believes that the UC system should intervene when the impact of one person’s behavior results in harm to others.
More so, he presented data from the Center for Disease Control.
“An estimate of 42,000 deaths resulted from second hand smoke exposure. Another 8.6 million Americans live with a serious illness caused by smoking or smoke coupled with the health carnage of tobacco in this country is the staggering economic burden it imposes,” Petracca said.
“The [studies] found that outdoor smoking bans have dramatically cut the number of people hospitalized for heart attacks, strokes and respiratory diseases. How much? Several studies where smoking outdoors has been banned, heart attack hospitalizations found an average of 15 percent after communities banned smoking in areas such as beach, restaurant, work areas and bars. When you think about the difference, a campus is not that different from a beach. It would be a loss of liberty if I tried to alter your behavior. The issue is, what can your behavior do to me, and do to the people sitting next to you?”
But yet, Schonfeld remained firm on his stance that the UC’s smoking policy is an infringement on basic freedom. Schonfeld finds it difficult to measure the harmful effects of second hand smoking with the other harmful effects of being outside.
“There are many reasons to think that people who smoked in 2014 may hide their smoking behavior, while in 1970 the person was open about their smoking behavior. If we look at tax collections on cigarettes, revenue has approximately multiplied by six over this time period. They are collecting a tremendous amount more taxes. In spite of the fact that there has been enormous growth over the smuggling of cigarettes, between 30-42 of the packages that people smoked were smuggled cigarettes, so in reality we don’t know what is going on in people’s lives. A lot of it is occurring underground,” Schonfeld said.
“For a long time, people didn’t like smoking by them. When we got to a situation where we started telling people, don’t smoke in my presence, we’re preventing smoking anywhere on the Irvine campus. That is a mentality that is very dangerous for freedom. A mentality, which says, when we find things irritating, we don’t want to have to deal with them.”
And yet, Petracca said, “No one is born a smoker, and no one needs die a smoker.”