MSU Car Smoking Ban Increases Potential for Community-Police Tensions

Health-consciousness posturing not worth the cost

Americans everywhere are struggling to come to grips with recent high-profile tragedies arising from violent encounters between police and civilians. For both police and many motorists, routine traffic stops have become nerve-wracking events.

This is the backdrop against which the trustees of Michigan State University have imposed a new ordinance that will increase the number of needless traffic stops on its campuses.

The measure takes effect on Aug. 15, and bans smoking or using smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes anywhere on MSU property. The ordinance applies even to personal vehicles on public streets that pass through the university. Violators can be charged with a civil infraction, and students can be suspended.

Michigan State has its own law enforcement agency. Its members are full peace officers with powers of arrest, just like municipal police departments. A spokesperson for the agency told The Detroit News that initially, officers will only be talking to smokers, with an emphasis on education.

What enforcement looks like will be worked out in time. Individual officers will have discretion over whether, how and upon whom enforcement actions will fall at any given moment. The potential for incidents that increase tensions between police and the community cannot be dismissed.

For this and other reasons, it is appropriate to question the priorities of MSU trustees. The ban makes them appear out of touch and more concerned about projecting a certain kind of image rather than the school's mission of educating students.

Given the tensions that exist between police and the cities they serve, it seems unwise to enact more laws that will increase opportunities for unnecessary community-police confrontations.

Beyond these immediate concerns, at what point do government efforts to control and micromanage the activities of a free people, including college students, become repellent to the very idea of a free society and what it means to be an American? Pulling over otherwise law-abiding drivers and fining them for engaging in a legal activity in their personal vehicles comes awfully close to crossing that line — if it doesn’t blow right past it.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.