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A response to information presented in “’U’ officials outline plan to carry out smoking ban”, January 23, 2011, in the Michigan Daily.

January 26, 2011

The campus-wide smoking initiative has been a source of controversy since President Coleman penned it on her Johnson & Johnson stationary set, owing to the totalitarian manner in which it became law, the size of the demographic it will affect, and now, how “’U’ officials” propose to enforce it. Though the validity of the law is debatable, that is another subject for another time. I wish to address two recent developments regarding the smoking ban: the idea of enforcing laws with “peer pressure”, and the $240,805 allotted to be used for its implementation.

A quotation of St. Thomas Aquinas, made famous by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”, asserts that “Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” Though Dr. King uses this passage to support his argument against segregation, it very much applies to the situation at hand. In Dr. King’s circumstances, his interpretation is that a law passed by those in authority, enforced by the same authority, that degrades the human personality of those it will be applied to is unjust.

“…individuals caught smoking on campus after the ban is implemented won’t be ticketed or arrested. Instead, Winfield (Robert Winfield, UM’s chief health officer) said the rule will be policed by peer pressure”.

However, in July, 2011, the University will place the burden of enforcing this initiative on us, the students. What is peer pressure but a means of unjust influence? What is the use of unjust influence but a degradation of human personality? For our own officials to encourage the practice of peer pressure is something that I will never understand or would ever expect anyone else to. The people hired to manage the University of Michigan, an institution I trust to hold the best wishes of its students in mind, hope to separate our campus and reduce us to mere whistleblowers and bullies, through the very same practice of peer pressure that caused many smokers to pick up the habit.

This, however, is not simply a question of morality.

Michigan’s unemployment rate is one of the worst in the country because Michigan’s economy was one of the hardest hit by the recession. We’re part of an era in which students share desks and teachers find other jobs. With this in mind, how can any gratuitous spending be justified. More specifically, how can THE public university in Michigan spend $240,805 for the implementation of an executive order with shaky foundations and a proposed enforcement battalion of student-narcs? Schools all over our state are cutting positions and programs but we’re adding a salaried overseer to manage…what, exactly? Enforcing this new law? No, they’ve left that up to us, the students who, out of hundreds of other schools, chose to spend four years at the University of Michigan, expecting to find the welcoming atmosphere it claims to provide.

Keeping in mind that what Mussolini did to Italy was considered legal in his day, yet Egyptian civilians protesting the dictatorial, nearly thirty-year rule of President Mubarak is a punishable offense, let us not dote on the justness of this smoking initiative. We know by now that injustice is a natural byproduct of government, deliberately or not. However, the fact that the ban has caused University officials to institute a policy of peer pressure on our campus and to spend $240,805 of our ever-diminishing budget, is grounds for revocation of this initiative, or at the very least, a serious reformation.

  1. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam permalink
    January 26, 2011 9:15 PM

    I think it’s interesting how you’re drawing parallels between Winfield’s decision to allow student pressure to govern the ruling of prohibiting on-campus smoking and Dr King’s invocation of the statement ‘Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.’

    But what I fail to understand is how Winfield’s decision to allow student pressure to govern the prohibition of on-campus smoking is unjust on the basis that it degrades human personality? How does permission to impose pressure that is constrained by legal/school statutes degrade one’s human personality?

    If one takes that statement of yours to be true, it would be unjust to call a student out of talking loudly on his/her cellphone in the middle of the lecture hall, in the middle of a lecture.

    • timothyhall permalink
      January 26, 2011 10:23 PM

      After re-reading my post with your response in mind, I realize I didn’t expound on this idea sufficiently. I appreciate your promptness.

      My problem with Winfield encouraging student pressure is that it indirectly advocates a legal aggressiveness, a heightened propensity for putting a problem that should be solved with general courtesy in intimate settings into the hands of university officials who can’t possibly be familiar with each case. It degrades human personality because it advances, albeit inadvertently, the recent trend of individuals doing anything to bypass personal confrontation. Though specific and a bit obscure, it is very much a problem. As opposed to filing a grievance with a governing body so distant from the problem, why not take it up with the impolite smoker as an individual, ask him to be more courteous? If we treated one another more as members of a community than as strangers with nothing in common but a postal code, I feel as though problems could be solved without the use of formal authorities.

      And in response to the cell phone example, conducting a phone conversation in the middle of a lecture hall deserves interdiction because it is an obvious infringement upon the rights of the other students who’ve paid to attend the lecture, as it is physically distracting because of the noise. However, it is very possible to smoke on campus without effecting anyone. The ban will be implemented against a socially constructed distraction.

      • apnash permalink
        January 30, 2011 6:37 PM

        I feel that the example brought up by Ad maiorem Dei gloriam of talking on a cell phone in a lecture is very applicable to the situation of smoking on campus. As a non-smoker I choose not to smoke, but I lose my ability to make that decision when those around me are smoking. I am affected their decision in much the same way I am affected by the decision of the lecture-phone-talker to ignore the professor in lecture. It is indeed the right of the smoker to smoke and the student to zone out in lecture, but I also have a right to not smoke and to pay attention in lecture. As the saying goes, your right to swing your arm ends at my nose.

        As to the decision to make the rule enforceable via peer pressure, I believe this can be thought of in a different way. Laws can, and perhaps should be the extension of the public will and a law that punishes someone simply for the sake of it and not because anyone objects to the act could very well be considered an unjust law. The enforcement by other “citizens” on campus ensures that if you truly are bothering no one else with your choice to smoke, as you seem to claim by stating: “it is very possible to smoke on campus without effecting anyone”, you would have no fear of being punished for that decision.

  2. Kimberly Pageau permalink
    January 26, 2011 10:21 PM

    Being a nerd, I’d just like to say that this reminds me a lot of the Inquisitorial Squad in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which may not seem like a significant reference but the fifth novel is probably the most political minded of the seven. For those that have read it, you’d know that Umbridge is an incredibly totalitarian influence over the school, and for Coleman to be similar to her in any way is really not flattering. Personally I don’t think it’s a good idea to encourage peer pressure on campus in any form. Turning students against one another won’t work, and like in Mr. Potter’s case, it made students even more resentful towards their superiors.

    To play devil’s advocate, the ban does in some ways make sense to me, since smoking has been banned in public places and the school is a public university.

    However, I have never once had an issue with someone smoking on campus, in fact I see people smoking a lot less than I thought I would when I got here. I just don’t think it’s necessary. Especially since I get this feeling that the ban is in a lot of ways being issued so that the University can brag in brochures that it is smoke free.

  3. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam permalink
    January 26, 2011 10:38 PM

    Hi Timothy, thanks for replying. Perhaps you could clarify what you mean by ‘recent trend of individuals doing anything to bypass personal confrontation’? What exactly is this trend and how does bypassing personal confrontation degrade human personality in the manner in which Dr King spoke about racism?

    Yes, it is possible to smoke without affecting anybody on campus (if you’re at a remote corner) but by virtue of the fact that my point was to be read in light of ‘student pressure’ necessitates the presence of students, and thereby, based on your claim that the ringing phone would disrupt the ‘rights’ of students to pay attention to lectures, smoking would disrupt the ‘rights’ of students to not be physically harmed by second hand smoke (assuming that smoking does cause lung cancer).

    My point is that pressure – student pressure, political pressure – govern the norms of life. There are no laws that govern your use of cell phones in class or that you keep to the right when walking, or you hold the door open for somebody behind you. Or the fact that when 9/10 students in a class raise their hand, you do so too. All these situations, and more, are arguably, instances of student pressure to conform to a norm.

  4. John D'Adamo permalink
    January 27, 2011 1:25 AM

    While I will agree that Coleman’s motives for the smoke ban are a bit suspect (she earns a $250,000/year salary sitting on the Johnson and Johnson board), there are definite health benefits to banning smoking on campus. Most public places, as has been mentioned before, have banned smoking, as second hand, or passive, smoke can in fact have an effect on the production of cancers ( and so it fits that smoking should be discouraged for the public good. Machiavelli argued for the public good as a motivation in The Prince, saying (paraphrased) that a ruler needs to not just focus on gaining power but also that it should have some effects for the common man. This rings true here. It does remain to be suspect why “peer pressure” is the enforcement mechanism. How does an organization force “peer pressure”? Advertising? Word of mouth? And what is to become of this city’s dear Hash Bash? These next few years will be quite interesting indeed.

  5. Brian Fisher permalink
    January 27, 2011 3:42 PM

    I found your comparison between the upcoming smoking ban and Dr. King’s quote in “Letter From Birmingham Jail” intriguing. While I personally heavily oppose this campus-wide smoking initiative that is about to commence, I ask you this question: While King asserts that “Any law that degrades human personality is unjust”, does allowing students to continue to smoke on university property degrade these non-smokers’ human personality? This law obviously effects all smokers alike but it is not intended for this select group. It is intended for those that feel the effects of second-hand smoke. However, should a law be implemented that clearly effects a selected population? In some cases yes, but this upcoming law banning smoking has gone to far. Where will the new line be drawn to establish personal space and university policy? While I am pleased that smokers cannot legally smoke indoors in the state of Michigan anymore, I say, let them have the outdoors. This ban on smoking is becoming too strict and seems EXTREMELY unpopular within the student body. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post not only because it points out that this law is ludicrous but it also points out the ridiculous attempt to impose this law through peer pressure. Smoking may in the minds of President Coleman effectively disappear after this policy takes way, but the use of peer pressure will never work. Maybe a few students will quit but the majority will ignore the condescending glance from others and continue with their cig.

  6. kasnetz permalink
    January 27, 2011 4:56 PM

    I agree that “peer pressure” as an enforcement mechanism is misguided and, I believe time will show, ineffective. College students are generally accepting of unhealthy behavior. One cannot doubt the acceptance of copious drinking and drug use, among other things detrimental to one’s health. Even if one objects to these strongly, they often might hesitate to reprimand anyone due to the aforementioned principle of peer pressure. However, peer pressure is close to the form of deterrence to smoking that I believe will succeed. Furthermore, I believe Martin Luther King’s strategy was largely intended to cause.
    That cause is cultural change. Peer pressure cannot itself be legislated. Civil Rights legislation far proceeded its proper enforcement. Accordingly, legislating a smoking ban on campus will do very little without the unconscious consent of the student population that may occur over time. From when I visited as a High School senior to my freshman year of college, I have noticed no change in smoking habits on campus since the ban went into effect. Smoking is still generally accepted by students, smoker and non-smoker alike. Similarly, segregation and persecution were still practiced after legislation was enacted because it was culturally accepted. Through demonstration and public relation, MLK was able to expedite the process of changing that culture. Similarly, I believe that public relations campaigns and coalitions created by peers are the only way to change that culture of acceptance. This change will be a gradual process. But I believe political history has shown that it must and always is a gradual process when it comes to cultural change.

    • John D'Adamo permalink
      January 27, 2011 6:20 PM

      I agree 100%, kasnetz. The expectation that all smoking will be rooted out the second the ban is put into place is ludicrous, it should be a gradual process as all cultural changes are. Personally, I have no problem with smokers- I grew up in a smoking household and never really have had an issue with it. Those that do will undoubtedly be encouraged to chide smokers through advertising and pressure, it seems. Which is pretty ridiculous- who is actually going to go up to one of their peers that is smoking on campus grounds and tell them “you shouldn’t smoke on campus, now…”? No one!! So I don’t really know what is going to happen at this point. Perhaps there will be a reduction of smoking on campus, but it’s not going to be what the administration wants. Time will tell if public safety officials will be asked to intervene and issue citations, and if so, that’s when I’ll advocate against the ban.

  7. pmrobfraz permalink
    January 28, 2011 1:52 PM

    Although I completely agree that it is ludacris to allot $240,805 to this initiative, I’m not sure you can make the argument that the university advocating “peer pressure” in order to enforce the smoking ban is “degrading to the human personality.” Maybe it is true that peer pressure is harmful to an individual’s personality when one is encouraging another to do something that unhealthy for them; however, there is no doubt that if one stopped smoking, it is ultimately the healthy decision. Also, anyone who encourages another to stop smoking is likely doing it with the purest intentions. I would agree with you if smoking was only harmful to the indivudual smoking, but this is obviously not the case. Smoking effects everyone. So, if one makes the decision to smoke, they are are making that decision not only themselves, but for everyone around them. Therefore, I think it is fair for someone to encourage another to stop smoking, since that act effects them as well.

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