Up in smoke

The University’s tobacco use policy went up in smoke Wednesday afternoon with an email — with the spelling properly checked — ­declaring that the campus is now 100-percent tobacco-free. The move is a progressive step forward for UT, and the way it will be implemented reflects careful consideration of how the change will affect various members of the community.

In January, the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) changed its rules to require that any institution receiving grant money be totally tobacco-free. Rightly recognizing the importance of cancer research at UT, administrators responded with a new policy that restricts tobacco use in almost all circumstances. Notably, an exception will be made for a number of designated smoking zones to ease the transition process to a tobacco-free campus. These zones will expire in March 2013, according to the new tobacco-use policy available on the UT website.

The new policy is also notable for its enforcement mechanism. Thankfully avoiding the nightmare of UT Police Department’s issuing $10 tickets for lighting up, administrators recognized that the change will require cooperation and that compliance with it will be best achieved by gentle reminders along with a gradual cultural change.

But while the new policy is generally considerate and forward-looking, the reason for its revision is somewhat worrisome. Texas voters established CPRIT in 2007 to “fund groundbreaking cancer research and prevention programs and services in Texas,” according to CPRIT’s website. Of the members of CPRIT’s Oversight Committee — the group that ultimately approved the decision to attach strings to the public money — nine are appointed and the remaining two are the Texas Attorney General and the Comptroller of Public Accounts.

That this largely unelected board has the power to dictate far-reaching University policy when its primary purpose is ostensibly to determine which cancer research grant applications to fund is disturbing. The making of higher education policy is better left to groups such as the UT System Board of Regents and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Nevertheless, a tobacco-free campus will go a long way to further the University’s healthy, environmentally-conscious community deeply committed to fighting cancer.