A Debate of Smoke and Mirrors, Light on the Mirrors

Weekly Debates

Philodemic Room

November 10, 2016

Turning its eye towards campus issues, the Philodemic Society convened on November 10 to debate “Resolved: Georgetown should be a smoke-free campus,” a debate inspired by the student referendum on the issue scheduled in early December. On the affirmation was Vice President Alden Fletcher (SFS ’17) of New York, and, making her induction, Ms. Madison Pravecek (SFS ’19) of Uruguay. On the negation was Mr. Hunter Estes (SFS ’19) of Maryland, and, making his induction, Mr. Bret Reinking (SFS ’19) of New York.

Ms. Pravecek opened the debate by stating that, as with the framing of the upcoming referendum, a smoke-free campus would prohibit all forms of tobacco, including chewing tobacco. She provided three reasons why this would be desirable: first, banning smoking improves public health for the Georgetown community; second, smoking decreases cognitive performance and harms the ability of smokers to be academically motivated students; and finally, permitting smoking conflicts with the Jesuit value of cura personalis. Vice President Fletcher continued the affirmation’s argument by arguing that this debate pits the liberty of smokers to smoke against the liberty of the broader Georgetown community to have free air; in such a situation, the liberties of the majority must be privileged. In fact, smoking infringes upon bodily autonomy by forcing nearby students to inhale unclean air and can therefore be rightfully banned.

On the negation, Mr. Reinking pointed out that, by banning chewing tobacco as well as cigarettes, the affirmation overreached issues of public health and bodily autonomy of non-smokers. Furthermore, a ban on smoking would negatively harm students with tobacco addictions, forcing such students out into the neighborhood to smoke, which would both put students at greater risk and further strain university-neighborhood relations. As an alternative, Mr. Reinking proposed the creation of special zones for smoking instead of a full ban. Mr. Estes began by stating that this debate threw his libertarian tendencies into conflict with his conservative desire for moral imposition. However, he pointed out that smoking can serve an important role for academics as a stress release. On the issue of public health, Mr. Estes questioned whether unhealthy foods should also be banned. And, as a final point, Mr. Estes reminded the society that a ban on smoking would disproportionately harm the marginalized communities of international students and University employees.

Opening floor speeches by referencing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Ms. Provo stated that the most basic need of all is for physical health, which therefore legitimates the smoking ban as a means of foisting healthiness upon others.

As the next speaker emerged from the shadows of our grand doorway, the entire Society was surprised—some with delight, others with terror—to see an old face emerge: that of the illustrious alum Mr. William Muran. As he began his speech, Mr. Muran pulled a pipe from deep within his jacket pocket and flourished it for all to see, declaring for all to hear: “Nobody can tell me what to do with my body!” Mr. Muran reveled for a moment in his role as an advocate for choice, then moved on to discuss the ways in which a smoking ban would harm international students. When smoking is an integral part of the culture of many international students, is it not culturally discriminatory to ban smoking? In fact—in the words of Mr. Muran himself, leveled directly against the affirmation and all of its forces—“what’s happening here is a nativist impulse against international students.” Oh, how terrifying a thought to be accused of nativism! Having delivered his speech to raucous knocks, Mr. Muran disappeared once more into the night.

Mr. Marrow nonetheless responded that sometimes a bit of nativism is a good thing when other cultures are simply in the wrong; furthermore, banning smoking might create headaches for a few addicts, but at least they won’t have lung cancer. Ms. Weissman responded that enforcement of current rules would essentially solve the problem, further stating that we should not impose our morals on others. Mr. Musgrave rose to declare that “as a conservative white male, I do occasionally smoke a cigar in celebration.” Mr. Mullaney, responding to Ms. Pravecek’s invocation of cura personalis, declared that this Jesuit value requires caring for addicts as much as the average Georgetown student—we must consider the smoker’s perspective in this debate. However, as Mr. Ernst replied, we should create institutions to help those with smoking addictions, not to tolerate their addictions. Ms. Reilly, speaking as an asthmatic, argued that a smoking ban would forcing smokers inside dorms, making life even more difficult for asthmatics. Finally, as the hour drew to a close, Sergeant Ludtke stated that third-hand smoke is as much a problem to be avoided as second-hand smoke.

As nonmember speeches began, Mr. Richard Howell (SFS ’19) argued that people have not been discussing the broadness and unenforceable nature of the proposed smoking ban. Ms. Sydney Sanders (SFS ’20) argued that the smoking ban, extended over time, would prompt students with tobacco addictions to not even apply to Georgetown in the first place. Mr. Julian Lark (SFS ’20) questioned why e-cigarettes and nicotine patches—the best alternatives for tobacco addicts—were also included in the smoking ban. And yet Mr. Ryan James (SFS ’20) retorted that smoking is a health hazard both to the student body and to smokers themselves and therefore ought not to be condoned. Ms. Rebecca Morrow (SFS ’17) argued that college is predicated on the freedom to expand one’s experiences; therefore, smoking must be permitted. Mr. Haik Voskerchian (COL ’19) stated that addictions need not be tolerated if they harm others. Mr. Jack Morton (COL ’20) agreed that smoking can help people cope and should not be banned absent a substantially compelling reason.

Returning to member speaking time, Mr. Soltis urged caution on the issue of smoking’s health effects, pointing out that a mere 97% of scientists regard smoking as harmful for one’s health. Mr. Perez-Reyes asked the floor to remove tobacco from Georgetown’s campus so as to “love the sinner but hate the sin,” but President Thanki retorted that banning nicotine patches would make it impossible to effectively love the sinner. Ms. Spira responded that loving a person can mean preventing them from harming themselves, and that the smoking ban should therefore be enacted. Yet Mr. Harden replied that we do not truly grow and learn the errors of our behaviors if we are simply prohibited from engaging in negative actions. Mr. Gonzalez argued that a smoking ban would make a positive statement about the values of the University, yet Mr. Ma replied that cigars are a catalyst for conversation and education and therefore have a necessary place on a college campus. Ms. Friedmann pointed out that allowing smokers on campus raises the health insurance premiums for all students. Finally, to close the floor speeches, Mr. Bies clarified a major point by pointing out that nicotine patches are not, in fact, included in the smoking ban.

Beginning the closing keynotes, Mr. Estes stated that the negation does not support zero regulations, but that it rather is opposed to a full ban. Considering that smoking is technically already banned on most of campus, our enforcement, and not our policies, create the problems related to campus smoking. Mr. Estes finished by saying that governments need not ban everything that carry a risk of harm. Also on the negation, Mr. Reinking argued that a smoking ban would shame and ostracize tobacco addicts, and that even with a ban, addicts will either smoke off campus or in dorms. The smoking ban does not prioritize public health; rather, it deprives addicts of needed resources.

Vice President Fletcher responded to a few points. First, Georgetown still has reasonably clean air because only 1/5 of students smoke—yet without policy action, this could increase in the future. Second, a ban sends a message to potential applicants that Georgetown prioritizes the health of its students. Finally, not all those with smoking addictions necessarily view this ban as a problem if they are looking to break their addictions. Ms. Pravecek pointed out both that smoking bans exist around the world (so the burden it would impose on international students is overblown) and that the referendum will not exist in a vacuum—Georgetown will provide resources to addicts who need them. To conclude the night, Ms. Pravecek argued that college is a place of experimentation, but not all experimentation is good, and we should not accept experimentation in self-harming activities.

With a vote of 19 affirming, 1 abstaining, and 22 negating, this resolution was negated. Following the debate, a great number of Philodemicians retired outside to enjoy celebratory cigars (or at least one assumes).


Micah Musser

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