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Words by Matthew Lesh
Infographic by Kevin Hawkins

Young and innocent, we enter Australia’s number one university as fools who are easily manipulated by Big Tobacco to begin smoking, only to die soon afterwards of cancer. Luckily, part-time Vice-Chancellor and part-time nanny Glyn Davis is out to save us from big tobacco—and ourselves—by banning smoking on campus this year.

This ban, supported by the ever-watchful and growing army of public health ‘experts’, reflects a whole new world of manipulation and control over individuals.

Rob Moodie, a so-called public health expert, explains in the official press release announcing the ban that “the university’s younger students are also most susceptible to developing potentially harmful smoking habits”.

Well, yes, smoking is harmful. However, plenty of habits are potentially harmful—alcohol, partying, or even walking in the street. But is potential harm to oneself enough to ban these activities for all? Of course not.

Every smoker makes their own decision to purchase cigarettes, based on the high monetary expense, the well-known health impact, and their personal benefit. In a liberal society, smokers’ decision to light up and potentially harm themselves is their choice—not yours, or mine, or Glyn Davis’ or Rob Moodie’s.

In the case of tobacco, a popular rebuttal to this principle is the claimed grievous harm of second-hand smoke. This argument is preposterously weak considering the already limited places one could smoke on campus—only outside and at least six metres away from buildings—and the simple ability to walk away from the few who do smoke. In practice, one would have to actively aim to inhale tobacco smoke for hours every day for second-hand smoke to be dangerous. Just because something is mildly uncomfortable for some does not mean it should be banned for others.

Moreover, this ban reflects the attempts of so-called public health experts to be faux demi-gods of good and evil behaviour.

Wearing shiny suits and spurred by countless Today Tonight and A Current Affair appearances, the experts tell us we must make alcohol more expensive because young people are drinking too much. They tell us we must put taxes and plain packaging on fast food and soft drinks because people are getting fat. They tell us we must ban solariums because some people misuse them.

The experts, driven by the misguided idea that they know best, seek to dictate our lives. The Bolshevist-era apparatchiks could only dream of such a socially acceptable level of control over individual behaviour, and yet we have allowed these people to sweep into the mainstream dialogue.

Central to the arguments put forward by these experts is the authoritarian idea that individuals are not trustworthy or intelligent enough to be free—that preposterous idea that we don’t understand the harm we are causing ourselves when drinking, eating fast food or lying in a solarium.

I have never had a cigarette in my life, I dislike fast food and, despite my pasty, white skin, I have not been to a solarium.

But I fight against proposed policy changes because I want to live in a society where individuals are free to maximise their own happiness without being restricted and controlled. I do not want to live in a society where it is acceptable to manipulate individual behaviour because it is “potentially harmful”.

Words by Adeshola Ore

The University of Melbourne will wipe out smoking and the selling of tobacco this year, following the lead of universities such as Macquarie and Swinburne.

The campus-wide tobacco ban was introduced on 4 February, marking World Cancer Day.

Ian Anderson, Assistant Vice-Chancellor of the university, told Farrago he is considering developing new smoking rules and designated smoking areas.

He said a smoke-free campus is part of a broader health strategy.

“We are not just doing this in isolation. We will be looking at our policies to make sure we’re not investing in tobacco companies,” he said.

“We’ll also be working with Student Health so if people do decide they want to give up, there are the resources behind them to do so.”

Professor Anderson said the university accepts smoking as a right of choice, but it aims to minimise the harm of passive smoking. “We’re very mindful of the need to provide a safe environment and also to promote wellbeing for staff and students.”

Professor of Public Health Rob Moodie said the ban aims to discourage smoking for a variety of reasons. “Smoking remains the first or second preventable cause of major illness in Australia,” he said. “The other reason is actually around litter—cigarette butts cause a significant amount of litter, so if you can reduce this, it is good for everybody.”

Professor Moodie said he believes the ban will de-normalise smoking on campus and send a clear message to everyone.

“It is a measure that says to all university students coming in from the start: this is a smoke free environment, it’s normal not to smoke here, it’s normal not to put other people at risk. That from a health perspective is a really good thing.”

Previous university smoking rules prohibited staff and students from smoking inside buildings and within six metres of entrances and doorways.

“There won’t be a punishment. But they will be asked not to smoke on university premises,” Professor Anderson said. “Our approach is about relying on good will and a commitment to taking care of each other.”

Rose, a student in the Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing, who is a social smoker, told Farrago she believes the ban is an infringement of personal choice.

“I think it completely undermines the University’s spirit of growth, experimentation and personal freedom,” she said. “Emerging from high school where there are so many restrictions on dress, behaviour and speech, university students should find themselves in a place that welcomes individualism and choice.”

The university has said they are committed to providing extra support to students and staff who want to quit smoking.

“It is an addiction, and that’s why it’s important that we have the resources to help people quit, if they want to do that,” Professor Anderson said.

The university currently offers a range of resources including GP and counselling services to assist people with the quitting process.

Professor Moodie says the smoking ban is a positive step forward for the university, believing it sends out a significant message.

“If you walk into a university like this and it’s smoke-free, it tells you something very strongly. It’s both the actual notion of smoke free and the message that it sends to young people and to staff.”

For a map of all the smoking zones, visit http://tobaccofree.unimelb.edu.au/dsa