Health Canada considers banning smoking on campuses

The federal government is considering a new anti-tobacco policy that could ban smoking on post-secondary school campuses.

In addition to a smoking ban, new guidelines would see the legal age for buying tobacco products raised to 21.

According to a discussion paper published by Health Canada on Feb. 22, approximately 15 per cent of Canada’s population uses tobacco products—or an estimated four million people. The new proposal aims to reduce tobacco use to less than five per cent by 2035.

Each post-secondary school already has its own smoking policy, with variations of smoking bans dependent on the province in which they reside in.

Carleton University’s policy prohibits smoking within 10 meters of any entrance or exit of all buildings, as well as any open air intakes or windows.

Second-year communications and political science major Maddie Meneguzzi said she has been a regular smoker for about a year. She said even though she most often abides by Carleton’s policy, it’s not always the case for everyone, especially during the colder weather.

“I’m a firm believer that I shouldn’t be putting other people in that position to have to walk through [smoke],” Meneguzzi said. “Especially if it is something they are trying to avoid. But there have been times where it has been really cold out and myself and others have just stood by the doors.”

Meneguzzi said she is skeptical that a campus-wide ban would be effective because she has yet to see the current rules enforced. Aside from being told to move away from the doors, she said students do not see any repercussions for their actions.

According to Carleton’s smoking policy, actions are only taken when there are formal complaints against violators who do not comply with the rules. If the issue is not resolved and students continue to violate the policy, they will be ticketed.

The University of Ottawa (U of O) has a similar policy, preventing students from smoking within nine feet of building entrances. The U of O Occupational Health and Safety committee can also recommend that other outside areas be designated as non-smoking, “if they see a need for this.”

Both schools stress the health of the campus is dependent on the community as a whole and encourage peer policy implementation.

Dalhousie University was the first post-secondary school to declare their campus smoke-free in 2003, according to their website.

Several other universities in Alberta and Atlantic Canada have since also put similar bans in place. Memorial University in Newfoundland created a university-wide smoking ban in August 2013, but according to the school, fines are not given to students who violate the ban.

“We don’t practice punitive enforcement,” said David Sorensen, a Memorial spokesperson, via email. “Rather, we hope over time to change the culture around smoking through a promotional campaign and self-policing. We hope and expect smokers to comply with the non-smoking policy.”

Pippa Beck, a senior policy analyst at the Smoking and Health Action Foundation and Non-Smokers’ Rights Association, said if universities choose to penalize students with fines for violating smoking policies, they must do it strategically.

“We advocate that it would be something similar to a library fine,” Beck said. “If you were charged for smoking in a smoke-free area, your fine would go on your account and you can’t actually graduate until you pay it off.”

But Beck said he also agrees peer-pressure can be a good deterrent, as long as there is adequate signage.

“I think it really comes down to signage and that’s something that can sometimes be scrimped on and not done properly,” Beck said. “There needs to be ongoing education about it as well so that people know the rules . . . people appreciate smoke-free [environments], and so when there is a rule with signage people feel empowered to speak up. “

The discussion paper with the proposed measures can be found on Health Canada’s website. People can contribute comments to the discussion until April 13, 2017.

– Photo illustration by Angela Tilley