No college or university administrator would consider condoning illiteracy, dishonesty, fallacious logic or bigotry. Let's help them add tobacco to this list by taxing colleges that condone its use.
College is supposed to be challenging. But at the University of Hartford, where I teach, one of the biggest challenges is avoiding secondhand smoke at doorways. For those who know the risks, it's a breath-holding challenge. For those who don't, it's deadly.
More than 49,000 Americans die annually from secondhand smoke exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That's more than die from traffic accidents, gunshots and snakebites combined, according to the CDC. But at college, smoking isn't just deadly. It's instructional. It teaches smokers to be inconsiderate, nonsmokers to be apathetic and children to become smokers, none of which promotes the public good.
Ironically, promoting the public good is among the justifications for giving colleges tax-exempt status.
Children learn many lessons by watching the behavior of adults. So the example set by adults who smoke is a bad one. That's why the Hartford Board of Education prohibits use or possession of tobacco on school grounds or at school-sponsored events. Two public schools reside on University of Hartford grounds, and children from other schools are common visitors to the university campus for sporting events, music lessons, admissions programs and summer camp.
You would think the university would want to protect these children from the bad example of adult smoking, even if it were not legally required to do so. A grass-roots petition drive asking the University of Hartford to ban smoking has been underway for some time. So far, it has not resulted in any change of policy. If all colleges and universities that don't establish and enforce policies prohibiting smoking on their campuses were subject to a tax, that might prompt action.
I suspect the vast majority of University of Hartford students, faculty and staff disapprove of smoking on campus, but this is not a matter for popular vote, anymore than literacy, honesty, logic or fairness are matters for popular vote, anymore than truth or compassion are matters for vote. Promoting good is the very reason colleges exist.
The university requires all students to be appropriately vaccinated. It doesn't ask how many want to be vaccinated, or make allowances for any who don't. It requires all to be vaccinated because that serves the individual and public, and it is the law. Prohibition of on-campus smoking would serve comparable individual and public goods, but isn't yet the law.
You might object. Smokers have rights and America is "the land of the free." That would make for an interesting argument if all smokers were adults who paid their way and never harmed nonsmokers, but such is not the case. According to the CDC, each day, nearly 4,000 kids begin smoking, and each year smokers consume $96 billion in health care expenditures and a comparable sum in lost productivity.
You can't help but wonder why colleges are so eager to appease smokers. I suspect a monetary motive: administrators likely fear that smokers would transfer if a college banned smoking. Nonsmokers don't transfer when colleges condone smoking because there are relatively few colleges that ban it. A tax on colleges that permit smoking would defeat this perverse incentive.
According to the American Lung Association, "there are approximately 422 colleges and universities that are 100 percent tobacco-free, and more join the list every year." Among Connecticut colleges and universities the association lists only Quinnipiac University's North Haven campus as smoke-free. It's a small beginning that all Connecticut's colleges and universities should follow.
Doug Dix is a professor in the Department of Health Science at the University of Hartford.