Utah state Rep. Bruce Cutler has proposed a ban on tobacco use at the Capitol complex. While smoking is prohibited inside the Capitol building, the proposal would extend that ban across the Capitol grounds and eliminate designated smoking areas. Cutler’s proposal is worth considering as Utah continues to incentivize healthy behavior.
The proposal, however, has been met with trepidation from state legislators, the lieutenant governor and the attorney general. The main concern is that the ban would have a disproportionate effect on Capitol employees and visitors who smoke regularly. In response, they ordered a study on how the ban might affect the workplace environment of Capitol employees as well as tourism.
Universities and other state capitols around the country have already implemented a tobacco-free campus policy. To date, over 1,600 universities nationwide have implemented a ban across campus on all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. The University of Utah recently joined Brigham Young University and Dixie State University in implementing a tobacco-free campus, the impetus for Cutler’s proposal.
The rationale for this policy on universities nationwide is usually framed as a public health concern — not only are administrators seeking to discourage tobacco use, they believe they have a responsibility to protect their populations from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke. This reasoning was also cited by state officials in Oregon in 2013, when the state implemented a tobacco ban on the grounds of all state properties.
Both universities and states acknowledge the difficulty this presents for visitors and employees whose habits necessitate regular smoking breaks. In their press release on the ban, Oregon state officials included a list of free programs available to help employees quit smoking. These programs provided access to telephone coaching, nicotine replacement therapy (patches, gum, lozenges) and medication.
Cutler’s proposal isn’t new — it has been pitched, considered and implemented hundreds of times across the country. Tobacco-free campuses are the next iteration in a decades-long effort to eradicate smoking from American society, effectively seeking to undo the damage done by tobacco and marketing titans in the mid-20th century. These bans aren’t antithetical to individualistic autonomy, or the rights of citizens, many of whom bear the insurance costs caused by smoking-related disease and cancer.
The proposal is a common legal mechanism, based on evidence regarding the damage of smoking, that can perhaps further discourage tobacco use within local communities.
An empathetic approach to implementation, however, might be modeled after Oregon's example. Capitol employees as well as citizens at large should have access to needed resources to help them quit their tobacco use — an essential step, along with increased tobacco bans, in creating a healthier state.