Scarp: Colleges should lead by example, not by fiat - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Scarp: Colleges should lead by example, not by fiat

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at mscarp1@cox.net.

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Posted: Sunday, July 1, 2012 7:12 am | Updated: 7:16 am, Tue Jul 3, 2012.

The nanny state goes nannying on, and as it often does, under the guise of doing the right thing.

Starting Monday, tobacco smokers won’t be able to light up anywhere on any of the Maricopa County Community College District campuses, as even those few outdoor designated smoking areas will become undesignated.

This column is no fan of cigarettes and is not recommending their use in any way. I have had close relatives die far too young of lung cancer. But as completely unhealthful as cigarettes are, they are a legal product.

While some rather convincing evidence of the effects of second-hand smoke means that designating areas to smoke away from non-smokers’ lungs is appropriate, an outright ban is nothing more than the government legislating morality.

Now, moral crusades are popular vote-getters and create strange bedfellows. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s motion picture fame and monetary success were based on his, um, entertaining use of various firearms and explosives to rid this planet and others of several individuals. But as governor of California he campaigned for and signed legislation banning minors from owning or playing violent video games.

The ban was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011, according to a report by National Public Radio, the justices ruling that California lacked the authority to “restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”

But while a video game may represent an idea, it’s not what’s for dinner.

Today the entire state of California goes foie-gras free, as a state law Schwarzenegger also signed, back in 2004, becomes effective. It bans the raising and sale of foie gras, French for engorged goose and duck livers, which to some are quite tasty and worth the expensive price (I am not among them) while to others it’s an inhumane and disgusting way to treat waterfowl.

In early June New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan for a Big Apple ban on the sale of sugary sodas larger than 16 ounces. If it becomes effective you could still get larger ones at convenience markets, but not at food carts, theaters or restaurants. Or, if there, you could just buy two of them. I imagine New York merchants planning buy-one-get-one-for-a-quarter offers.

And at least once every several months some government official announces plans to ban the sale of fast food, an idea augmented in recent years since documentarian Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 film, “Super Size Me” followed his spending 30 days eating nothing but stuff you can order through a loudspeaker at McDonald’s.

Which brings us back to our community colleges. At least 95 percent of those on those campuses on any given day are adults. While minors lack the legal capacity to decide whether to smoke, by law adults do. MCCCD Chancellor Rufus Glasper said in a statement that he sees the colleges as needing to set an example. He said, “As an educational institution, we have an obligation to lead the way in matters of health awareness and education.”

As an educator, Glasper could have capitalized on an opportunity to lead by example, not fiat, say, starting a petition drive to ask all faculty, staff and students to pledge to be tobacco-free.

Who knows? Seeing thousands of your friends and teachers — including some who have just recently quit — all saying publicly that they won’t smoke might be the kind of support needed to get smokers down the path of quitting cigarettes.

Or Glasper could offer incentives and prizes donated by health-minded local merchants to employees and students, all to discourage smoking. Is this more complicated than simply announcing a campus ban? Sure. But it preserves freedom of choice.

Government has the power to approve or ban certain products from sale through several agencies. Many proven harmful by science have been outlawed, and cigarettes are definitely harmful. So far the government hasn’t banned them. Maybe Dr. Glasper and officials at the college district believe they don’t control the whole government, just their slice of it, and that justifies the decision. But that’s a slippery slope.

Maybe the district, the nation’s largest, could modify the petition I mentioned above and ask all the other community colleges in the country to create their own. Hundreds of thousands of community college employees and students asking Congress to ban the sale of tobacco products nationwide would be quite a demonstration of leadership, indeed.

Far more than merely putting up a bunch of no-smoking signs.

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