Research funds not worth sacrificing freedom

Stephen McGarvey

I am not, have not been and for the foreseeable future will not be a smoker or user of any tobacco product. In fact, tobacco in all of its forms repulses me, and I typically try to avoid spending extended time around tobacco users.

However, what will likely be a new tobacco ban has sparked debate around campus, and it is quite likely the most absurd policy I’ve ever seen this institution try to implement. Moreover, it is being done for all the wrong reasons. When I first heard of the ban, I was rather neutral and, if anything, supportive of it, but the devil is in the details, and these details
are troublesome.

The University already has a policy regarding smoking. Students, staff and faculty cannot light up in or near any campus building, and with good reason — secondhand smoke is dangerous to non-smokers in closed environments. While people should be able to make their own life choices, they should not affect the well-being of others.

However, the University has recently decided that its grant money is more important than people’s freedom. If approved, the ban would prohibit smoking both inside and outside and the use of smokeless tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco, which pose no threat to anyone else.

This policy fails ethically, pragmatically and financially, creating a trifecta of idiocy on the part of the University. Ethically, it is wrong to dictate people’s freedom to live their lives as they wish, even if what they do is foolish. But UT obviously hasn’t considered the repercussions of this policy.

UT could lose a large pool of talent if it decides to purposefully and irrationally target smokers. If the new policy is enacted, many professors could leave and go to a university with a less authoritarian approach to their lifestyle. Tobacco-using students may use this as a prime consideration when deciding which college to attend.

Financially, let’s be honest. UT is doing this for one thing: money. The University is essentially forsaking its ideals in favor of its precious research money. The University is overlooking one key realization: All of the money it receives from the Cancer Prevention Resource Institute of Texas (CPRIT) is used to fight cancer, or essentially, benefit CPRIT.

If UT refuses to restrict its students’ rights and take the money, the only one that would ultimately lose is CPRIT. This organization would quickly change its authoritarian tune once it realizes universities aren’t willing to give up essential liberties for its money. And in the meantime, students could rest assured that the missing money did not subsidize tuition or increase class options.

Supporters of this ban argue that secondhand smoke is a danger and that therefore UT is simply protecting its non-smoking students, but that is simply not the case. Studies have shown that smoking outside exposes almost no one to any secondhand smoke.

The reality is that CPRIT wants to make tobacco users’ lives more difficult just to show them it doesn’t approve of what they are doing. Rebecca Garcia, CPRIT’s chief prevention officer, even told The Daily Texan, “We hope that all tobacco users will quit, but we recognize some may choose to continue to use these products and that this policy may make it more inconvenient for them.” While hoping all users will quit is an admirable stance, using these tactics eliminates all credibility and benevolence from CPRIT’s intentions.

Use of smoking and tobacco is unfortunate but punishing people for their use is not the answer. This policy would not help users quit but would drive them away from our University. CPRIT has the money and UT has the intellect, and together they can work toward CPRIT’s goal of fighting cancer. But until CPRIT moves away from its hidden agenda of micromanaging universities, UT should kindly turn down the money. Any university smart enough to potentially find a cure for cancer should be smart enough to not restrict and anger its community in the process.

McGarvey is business honors freshman.