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Monday, October 02, 2023 — Houston, TX

New tobacco restrictions infringe on students' rights: Let the boys chew

By James Dargan     9/6/12 7:00pm


The release of Rice University's new tobacco policy last week caused much excitement around campus. To some, it serves as further relief from the evils of secondhand smoke. To others, it complements efforts to help people quit smoking. Will this policy have a positive impact on the health of the Rice community? Possibly, but I find the tobacco policy deeply troubling. 

As Rice students, we owe it to our community to resist any policies that infringe on the freedoms of an outspoken minority, irrespective of our personal views. What is true for you may not be true for me; wisdom that is so commonly recognized in the classroom seems lost in the real world and currently at Rice. 

Rice provides endless opportunity for one to express oneself. Rice's activities fair reveals just a glimpse of the various clubs on campus that peacefully coexist. None may appear more bridled with conflict than the Rice Conservative Forum and the Young Democrats: Just watch them debate. But even they respect the other's existence; neither wishes to regulate the other to death. 

One can swing dance in the McMurtry College Commons or salsa at Willy's Pub, but most just get down in the overcrowded mess that is any public party. I do not know anyone who wants his or her mother to see the perversion that is Night of Decadence, but that does not stop us from enjoying it. And those that disagree with such blatant sexual drunkenness do not seek to destroy its existence. Instead, they play dodgeball at the Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center or watch movies at Sid Richardson College. They choose for themselves what acts they wish to engage in and respect others' right to decide otherwise. If you do not journey down to Wiess College in your underwear, I understand. If you make a walk of shame the morning after, I will not judge. I want everyone to make the most of their time here - whatever that involves. 

Which brings me back to the heart of my troubles: the apparent ignorance to the disservice this policy does to our fellow students. Because this enthusiasm to inconvenience tobacco users until they have no recourse but to quit is unjust and, worse, intolerant of a targeted minority. The "societal pressures" conveyed by these new regulations stir only fear in my mind - fear of the "greater good" trouncing the liberty every tobacco smoker and chewer is entitled to. 

I do not defend chewing tobacco or smoking. It is unhealthy, expensive and arguably stupid. I will never smoke a cigarette, but that is my decision to make, not yours. Just as those half-naked wizards grind on at Harry NODder or the 21+ kick back in the beer garden, if a fellow Rice student wishes to smoke a cigarette, I will dutifully yield that decision to him. My friends are not going to surrender their right to drink silently and neither should smokers quietly submit to any further rules that constrain their ability to smoke. I know I will not. 

I draw a sharp distinction between encouraging a friend to quit and institutionalizing unjust regulations. Between offering my personal support and exiling one to a tent to engage in an act he is entitled to, we as a community should strive for the former, not the latter. 

If non-smokers want students to quit smoking, they should reach out to smokers themselves. Do not strangle their freedom with oppressive new rules. Remember, we all participate in activities others oppose. I applaud the initial restraint of the administration in its policy, one which other universities would have been better served to display, but it is still a step down a not-so-slippery slope I would rather not travel. Be mindful next time such restrictive policies are adopted before you praise their wisdom. 

James Dargan is a Wiess College junior.

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