The University of Iowa

Tobacco, Pot, and the Public Interest on February 3 WorldCanvass

January 23rd, 2015

The next WorldCanvass will explore the complicated and controversial issues surrounding the legality and use of tobacco and marijuana with a special focus on the tension between personal liberty and the public good.  Host Joan Kjaer will moderate the conversation with guests from the fields of dentistry, psychiatry, pharmacy, public health, and law.  The February 3 program begins at 5 p.m. at FilmScene and is free and open to the public.

Tobacco’s characteristics--its allure for smokers, addictive qualities, harmful health effects, and legal but regulated status—are well-known to most Americans. In fact, over the last quarter century or so, thanks to massive public education efforts, we’ve seen a sharp turn-around in public attitudes and private behaviors regarding tobacco, largely because of the recognition that smoking tobacco dramatically increases health risks of smokers and non-smokers alike.  This reversal has been something of a public health success, aided by the establishment of legal limitations on the sale and marketing of cigarettes, laws prohibiting smoking in public spaces, and both voluntary and legislated restrictions against smoking in private restaurants and establishments. Nonetheless, tobacco remains, as it has always been, a legal substance for adult use.

Marijuana has long been part of American culture but has lived underground as an illegal and presumed harmful drug.  But changes in public attitudes toward marijuana in many parts of the country have resulted in legalization or at least debate about the potential for harm to the individual and society from the use of cannabis.  Although there’s clearly no uniform agreement on the question of legalizing the recreational use of pot, research has shown that medical cannabis (often called medical marijuana) can improve pain, side-effects, and discomfort for certain seriously ill patients with a variety of conditions from cancer to epilepsy to PTSD, resulting in calls from many quarters to allow patients to receive medical marijuana by prescription.  This debate continues in our state and across the nation.

Regulatory issues and public attitudes toward tobacco and marijuana raise critically-important questions for our society, questions about the concept of the public good.  For example: where, exactly, does the perceived public good bump into constitutionally-guaranteed rights of personal liberty? In regulating harmful products or substances for the public good, are we ‘legislating morality?’  When does legislating against harmful behaviors and substances work and ‘feel right’ to the public and when does the public reject such attempts at regulation?  

WorldCanvass guests will address these questions and more on Tuesday, February 3, when the topic is “Tobacco, Pot, and the Public Interest.”

Part 1 5:00-5:25 

  • Christopher Squier, director, Oral Sciences Training Program, UI College of Dentistry
  • Douglas Beardsley, director, Johnson County Public Health
  • Robert Philibert, professor, UI Department of Psychiatry

Part 2 5:30-5:55 

  • Robert Philibert, professor, UI Department of Psychiatry
  • Frank Caligiuri, assistant professor, Drake University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

Part 3 6:00-6:25 
Personal rights, public interest

  • Todd Pettys, professor, UI College of Law
  • Douglas Beardsley, director, Johnson County Public Health


You’re invited to attend WorldCanvass at FilmScene, Iowa City’s non-profit cinema arts organization, 118 East College Street. Concessions will be available for purchase and audience members are invited to enjoy a social hour from 4:00-5:00 p.m. preceding the show.  

We encourage you to use #worldcanvass when posting on social media before, during, and after the show, or mention @uiowaIP on Twitter.

WorldCanvass is recorded before a live audience for later broadcast on UITV, YouTube, iTunes, and the Public Radio Exchange. Podcasts can be downloaded for free from iTunes and past programs are available through IP’s website at

WorldCanvass is a production of UI International Programs in collaboration with FilmScene and University of Iowa Video Services. For more information on WorldCanvass, contact Joan Kjaer at or visit