Wash. U. should set precedent in terms of tobacco legislation

| Staff Writer

While Washington University is a predominantly liberal campus, Missouri—our adopted state—still adheres to some ineffective, backwards policies. Take the statewide cigarette tax, which is the lowest in the nation by far, at a mere 17 cents per pack of 20 cigarettes. Compare that to the national average of $1.61 a pack in taxes, and one starts to wonder how Missouri’s tax hasn’t been at least marginally increased in the recent past. Unsurprisingly, Missouri ranked 41st in the nation in 2014, with an adult smoking rate of 22.1 percent according to the Center for Disease Control. Without changing pricing strategies, Missouri remains negligent in not providing an effective deterrent to smoking.

Washington University has taken an extremely aggressive stance on tobacco that the state will never incorporate but should take a serious look at as a model to make Missouri a healthier and more attractive place to live and work. Smoking and all other tobacco products are prohibited on the entire campus. This ban includes all visitors and electronic cigarettes and vaporizers, as well. As a 100 percent tobacco-free campus, technically Wash. U. students can’t own cigarettes on campus in any form of Residential Life housing and would theoretically have to buy a new pack each time they wish to smoke and leave campus to do so. Of course, this practice isn’t practical and doesn’t occur. Take a walk down Forsyth Boulevard on any day. It doesn’t matter when you go; there will definitely be faculty, staff and students polluting their bodies and the air around them. While Wash. U. deserves praise for the efforts thus far, I implore them to go a step further.

Currently, Wash. U. doesn’t permit any tobacco-related advertising or sponsorship on University property, at University-sponsored events or in publications produced by the University. Recognizing that this practice has to be done at a nationwide level to prevent new young adults from using cigarettes, and that it has little impact on students, faculty and staff who already smoke, Wash. U. should go to the respective governments of Clayton, Mo. and University City, Mo. to ban smoking, even on public sidewalks next to institutions of higher education. It’s not enough to just offer support for quitting smoking to both students and employees.

Consider that just over the border in Kansas, youth smoking rates dropped by five percent after a tax increase of 55 cents. Studies show that a 10 percent price increase can reduce overall cigarette consumption by 3 to 5 percent, but, more importantly, youth and young adults are two to three times more responsive to changes in prices than adults. Missouri should follow after Kansas and take a strong stance, thinking about the future generation first.

Recently, the “Missouri Promise” initiative was pushed off the upcoming ballot by competing cigarette tax proposals. The Promise proposal would have raised tax per pack by 70 cents to $1, and tax revenue would have been used to support scholarships for students who graduate high school and stay in Missouri to pursue higher education. Unfortunately, pressure from other initiatives leaves us with two lesser proposals.

Regardless of proposed legislation, the sad part of cigarette-use reform is the main thing blocking legislation is businesses that don’t want to lose advantage of having lower prices than other states. Public safety and health should come before profit; it should not be the other way around.

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and smoking kills more Americans each year than alcohol, motor vehicle accidents, fires, heroic, cocaine, homicide and suicide combined. Our school should be shaping the future, not letting a major public health crisis of the past and present persist. Forty million adults smoking in the U.S. is still too high, considering how dangerous we know cigarettes are. Cigarette use on Forsyth Boulevard, Skinker Boulevard and all other streets bordering campus need to end.