Truth Through Combat


Yet another do-gooder attempts to fix the world: http://www.cnn.com/2005/EDUCATION/11/14/smoke.free.university.ap/index.html.

If you want to email Schlapper, the University’s head of health services, here is his address: fschlapp@boisestate.edu.

Here’s my letter to Mr. Schlapper:

Dear Mr. Schlapper:

You propose banning smoking from the campus. Several arguments can be and have been made in favor of such proposals. Unfortunately, none hold water.

In the first place, no such argument will work if it is based solely on the science of ETS. Obviously, no studies are available that will show that occasional outdoor open-air exposure has any kind of significant health risk to non-smokers. Therefore, the argument will have to be one against active smoking instead of passive smoking.

You have claimed that smoking is harmful to health. Allow me to grant the claim and proceed from there. There’s little point in arguing the obvious.

Now, then…your argument proceeds by asserting that that which is harmful to health should be banned from your university in order to promote a healthier learning environment that will attract higher-achieving students. I propose that both of these aims are ill-conceived.

The first objective seems laudable, certainly: it would be nice to have a “healthier learning environment.” However, its fulfillment would fail to accomplish the intended objective, which I presume would be a healthier student body. Why? Because you have provided no evidence to show that your policy will result in the university having fewer smokers. And, even if you could show this to be the eventual result of your policy, it would fail to show that the policy would result in a healthier society. Your policy–at least on a prima facie examination–only serves to segregate smokers from non-smokers.

The second objective–the attraction of higher-achieving students–will have the following effects: because smokers tend to be poorer, the policy will serve to exclude the poor from receiving the fine education that I’m sure BSU can deliver. In addition, because smokers tend to be male and white, the policy will serve to exclude those populations at higher rates as well (both of these effects assume that the first part of your policy is indeed fulfilled–that is, I am assuming here that you can indeed be successful in attracting higher-achieving students because there will be no smoking on campus.

Finally, the second objective would fail to be met for a very simple reason: none of the higher-achieving students you mention would (or should) be stupid enough to assume that banning smoking in the occasional parked car or on the campus’ outdoor areas will have the effect of making them healthier in any way or of turning them into better students. The current policy is more than adequate to address the concerns of students who do not like to be around smoking: they can simply go into a building, after all. What’s more, it is fair to presume that a higher-achieving student will (or should) realize that occasional outdoor open-air ETS exposure does not have a causal relationship to any disease or condition of significance (No, occasional mucous membrane irritation does not count–it’s a rather silly and weak claim which has no relationship to long-term health).

My final counterargument to your position is this: that your desire to eradicate this health scourge from the world is clearly violative of the contemporary bioethical principle of autonomy, and that this is indeed a principle that should not be violated except on a strong showing of evidence that the autonomous act in question is violative of someone else’s autonomy. Since your argument does not demonstrate this strong evidence, I conclude that it fails to justify its desired conclusion. Therefore the argument is invalid and cannot be sound or convincing.

This proposed ban is medically and scientifically unwarranted. On the medical merits of the case, the policy fails to make even a prima facie case for acceptance. I urge you to reconsider your own position on this matter and to critically examine the arguments behind such bans in the future.


Fabio Escobar


Filed under: Bioethics, Uncategorized

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