Just less than one year ago, it was announced that the University of Michigan would institute a “smoke free” policy on all three of its campuses, finally banning smoking on all university property after incrementally banning it first indoors and then within fifteen feet of all entrances and exits to university buildings. The new policy is set to take effect on July 1st, 2011.
However, this proposed policy has caused significant and vocal opposition from members of the campus community. In particular, members of the University of Michigan College Libertarians, including myself, have led the efforts to reverse this decision.
Criticisms, up to this point, have focused heavily on the fact that this decision was made entirely from on high by President Mary Sue Coleman without the involvement of students, faculty, or staff. There have also been significant concerns regarding the justifications for the ban: representatives of the “Smoke Free University Initiative” have stated, interestingly, that the ban is not in response to concerns regarding second-hand smoke (the usual excuse for such measures), but rather for the purpose of creating a “culture of health.” This, it seemed, was particularly ridiculous: the university was engaging in blatant paternalism and trying to make personal health decisions for students, faculty, and staff. One of the most vocal opponents of the ban, Alex Biles, had a modest proposal of his own for promoting a “culture of health.” There were a variety of other concerns, of course, including the issue of enforcement, the costs of this policy to the university, the additional cigarette butt littering after the removal of butt huts across campus, and so on.
However, a massive break was made last weekend when it was discovered that President Mary Sue Coleman, architect of the policy, also just so happened to sit on the Board of Directors of the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, which is the largest producer of smoking cession products in the nation, and received an incredible $229,978 in compensation. The College Libertarians quickly wrote up and sent out a press release regarding this development and the issue has spawned two articles in the most-read campus newspaper, the Michigan Daily, this week. This significant and obvious conflict of interest has never been addressed by Mary Sue Coleman and it was only through independent investigation that this was discovered.
This, of course, does not constitute evidence that the policy was motivated by her affiliation to the corporate giant. But, as Murray Rothbard insisted, we should not shy away from investigating such relationships and always asking, “cui bono?” when examining the genesis of government policies. What appear to be disinterested and benevolent actions by “public servants” are often motivated by far more sinister and self-serving reasons.