News | Majority of students support smoke-free campus

“Smoking shelters” proposed against secondhand smoke

A Senate ad-hoc working group held a town hall on February 11 to discuss the possibility of making McGill a “smoke-free” campus. Students showed up to express their views on the issue, and to argue the benefits and costs of instituting policies that would ban smoking on campus.

According to a January survey conducted by a senate caucus smoking working group, 63.9 per cent of students would “strongly support” moving toward a “smoke-free” campus. 46.4 per cent felt strongly that secondhand smoke was a problem on campus.

At a January 28 meeting, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council voted to approve a plebiscite question to be asked in the Winter 2016 referendum period: “Would you support McGill becoming a smoke-free campus if smoking cessation resources were provided and there were ongoing educational campaigns?”

“Seriously, if I can buy cigarettes I should be able to smoke them. It’s my campus, too.”

The call for a smoking ban on campus results mainly from complaints regarding areas around McGill that attract greater numbers of smokers. These areas are often directly outside entrances to libraries and student buildings: the Redpath Tunnel, the Bronfman building entrance, the Law library entrance, and the Shatner building entrance.

The smoking working group’s proposal aims not only to address what should be done about smoking on campus, but also specifically to address stress and social smoking. Working with partners like Healthy McGill, the proposal would hope to curb smoking by making information on quitting widely available, while adopting a harm reduction approach to helping students quit smoking.

Another facet of the working group’s plan includes the building of temporary “smoking shelters,” designated areas where students can smoke in the winter while also reducing other students’ exposure to secondhand smoke.

Similar shelters are already being installed in Melbourne, Australia. These shelters would potentially be used as bike shelters in the summer, and would be fitted with ashtrays.

Town hall participants raised the question of whether e-cigarettes would be included in a campus smoking ban. Often considered a smoking cessation tool, some argued that e-cigarettes and vaporizers should be exempt from the ban, as part of a harm reduction policy.

Students were given the chance to post anonymous comments following the completion of the aforementioned smoking survey. Many of the comments cited health concerns of non-smokers as arguments against smoking on campus.

“I suffer from chronic migraines and cigarette smoke is one of my biggest triggers. As soon as I smell a strong whiff of it or smell it constantly, I get severe pounding pain in my head and I have to lie down and take medication. It is very disconcerting that the laws of smoking prohibition aren’t being followed at all, and there is no enforcement of these laws,” an anonymous respondent said.

According to the Quebec Tobacco Control Act, “Smoking is prohibited outdoors within a nine-metre radius from any door leading to […] a university building.” Since September 2014, the restrictions on smoking outlined in McGill’s smoking policy have also been applied to the use of e-cigarettes. 76 per cent of survey respondents felt that the University should enforce its current smoking policies.

Not all comments on the survey supported the ban. Many argued that banning smoking is categorically unfair, and doesn’t take into account students’ rights.

“This [initiative] isn’t about policing individual behaviour. It’s about asking ourselves what we can do to best ensure that students’ overall health and wellness is promoted, and a lot of students do say that secondhand smoke is an issue on campus.”

“School is stressful. I like smoking cigarettes. Don’t take that away from me. The campus is large, and making it entirely smoke-free would be a huge inconvenience for people who want to smoke, especially after dark. Who is standing around inhaling second-degree smoke in the winter? Seriously, if I can buy cigarettes I should be able to smoke them. It’s my campus, too,” said a another anonymous respondent.

Speaking to The Daily, David Benrimoh, Medicine senator and member of the smoking working group said, “This [initiative] isn’t about policing individual behaviour. It’s about asking ourselves what we can do to best ensure that students’ overall health and wellness is promoted, and a lot of students do say that secondhand smoke is an issue on campus.”

The presentation noted that if a mandate is adopted to work with McGill on a smoke-free campus, this would involve an implementation period of at least three years.