‘Nicotine-free’ or decision-free?

Newswire photo by Jeff Richardson

First, I should say that I am not a smoker and never have been. What follows comes from a place of principle and not of self-interest.

Second, I want to make it clear that, as a private institution with dominion over its own property, Xavier  has every right to institute a nicotine ban on campus. In this regard, I respect the decision.

However, just because the university can take such action, doesn’t mean that it should.

If a government were to take this action — as the state government of Hawaii is considering what is effectively a ban-by-age restriction — I would denounce this move as a massive violation of the personal liberty of individuals and of the economic liberty of sellers.

However, while I’m sure that smoking bans at colleges have helped inspire similar maneuvers in government, these are still separate issues that are wrong for different reasons. As such, Xavier’s upcoming policy deserves a more “personalized” argument.

My opposition to Xavier’s nicotine ban is founded in the character of the university itself. In my four years at this Jesuit institution, I would say that the value referenced the most around campus is cura personalis, care of the whole person, or, as it is commonly adapted to an institution of learning, education of the whole person. The nicotine ban is a blatant failure to live up to this commitment.

At first glance, trying to curb nicotine use seems consistent with cura personalis. The stated goal of the policy is to create a healthier community, supposedly for the betterment of the “whole person” of everyone on campus.

However, this justification leaves an open question. If community and education is the goal, why is the university forcing people to behave a certain way, rather than simply providing them with the resources necessary to make their own informed decisions?

Once the superficial excuses of “best practices” and the characterization of nicotine use as an “epidemic” are brushed aside, the real answer becomes clear. Giving people a choice leaves open the possibility that they will decide to continue smoking. This is unacceptable to the administration, which is only interested in immediate and universal results that can be used to bolster the university’s reputation.

Yet this desire for instant gratification discards a perfect opportunity to achieve true cura personalis. If the university simply provided informative literature on nicotine use to the community, all nicotine users would face a challenge to their habits. This challenge would require critical thinking on a tangible, personal issue, rather than the abstract and distant topics typically confronted in academia.

This sort of critical thinking is necessary for personal growth and maturity — in other words, the education of the whole person. Under this approach, many users would likely desire to kick the habit. Some may remain unchanged, certainly, but if a capable adult, after having all the facts and figures laid bare before them, still decides that smoking is worth it, shouldn’t that decision be their right?

Instead, a ban is being pursued. This means that rather than challenging us to make important and informed life decisions, the university is making the decision for us. No learning happens with this method. Rather, students will either smoke behind the university’s back or they will be confronted with the actual decision once their time at Xavier has concluded. At that point, they may not have access to the resources that they would have had at Xavier. The decision made, therefore, is far less likely to be an informed one, and more people may decide to continue their nicotine use than they would have if the decision had been weighed at Xavier.

The ban will be successful in creating the façade of immediate “improvement.” The long-term results, however, are bound to be contrary to the administration’s stated goal.

The ban is already a “done deal” at this point. I doubt that anything that has been said, here or elsewhere, will change minds where it matters. However, I hope to have re-framed the issue to make clear what is truly at stake. This is about more than Xavier becoming a nicotine-free campus. This is about Xavier becoming a decision-free campus.

By: David Dreier | Guest Writer