Many of the University’s early benefactors, most notably Washington Duke, amassed fortunes selling tobacco, and reminders of tobacco’s historic importance dot the campus. Despite this legacy, Duke should quit cigarettes for three reasons.
First, selling tobacco on campus conflicts with Duke’s commitment, as both a research institution and medical provider, to health. Duke has spent enormous amounts of money researching and treating tobacco-related illnesses. It boasts one of the best cancer research institutes in the country, operates a prestigious regional hospital and implements on-campus initiatives designed to reduce smoking among students and staff. And yet, Duke continues to sell tobacco—a practice that not only sanctions tobacco use, but also threatens to undermine Duke’s efforts to combat the negative health effects of smoking.
Second, eliminating cigarette sales on campus may help alleviate negative externalities associated with tobacco use. Many find cigarette smoke unpleasant or irritating, and second-hand smoke is linked to heart disease and cancer in non-smokers. Treating conditions like lung cancer can be extremely costly, and smokers impose enormous long-term costs on the country’s health system. Limiting the availability of cigarettes promises to reduce both the immediate and long-term social consequences of smoking.
Third, discontinuing cigarette sales might discourage students from smoking. Only a few retailers on campus, like the Lobby Shop and Uncle Harry’s, sell tobacco, and customers looking for cigarettes have to request them from the cashier. Despite the relative inaccessibility of cigarettes on campus, a considerable number of students continue to smoke, often in order to relieve stress associated with classes or exams. Limiting access to cigarettes would impose an additional cost on would-be smokers—by forcing them to go off campus to buy tobacco—and discourage casual smokers from lighting up.
Students should be free to make decisions about how to treat their bodies, and we recognize that banning the sale of cigarettes on campus would impinge on students’ choices. But the disincentive to smoke would remain low, given the availability of cigarettes at nearby stores. Besides, discouraging students from smoking is not only defensible—because smoking can cause enormous bodily damage—but also entirely consistent with Duke-sponsored programs and institutes designed to reduce smoking.
Smoking can be deadly, and the University should discourage students from using tobacco, even if doing so requires limiting consumption choices. Duke is a private university; many of its rules and procedures—on-campus housing, dining options, curriculum requirements—limit students’ choices. Given how unambiguously bad smoking is, a minor reduction in consumer choice is a small price to pay for a healthier campus.