On October 25, roughly 15 students and other members of the university community gathered in the Redpath Museum Auditorium for a town hall meeting regarding McGill’s Draft Smoking on Campus Policy.
The policy was developed following consultation with the McGill community that was initiated by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) of McGill University.
Robert Couvrette, the Associate Vice-Principal (University Services), mandated a working group to recommend ways to implement a campus-wide non-smoking policy.
Panelists at the town hall included Paul Guenther, senior campus planner at the Office of Campus and Space Planning and chair of the working group, David Benrimoh, working group student representative, and Jenny Ann Pura, PGSS Member Services Officer and working group PGSS representative. The discussion was moderated Lindsay Duncan, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.
Developing the policy
Guenther began the discussion by explaining that in developing the policy, the working group looked at similar practices at universities in North America and Europe that mirror McGill’s campus dynamics. The group also consulted academic research, which showed that “exposure to secondhand smoke poses a health risk for the entire community.”
The policy defines smoking as “the usage of any product that contains or otherwise utilizes tobacco, tobacco-derived substances, and/or emits a vapor or smoke.” Smoking would be banned on campus except for a designated area at the Upper Residences and designated areas on MacDonald campus and the Gault Estate.
“Based on best practices [at universities] this policy will be self-enforced by the community,” Guenther said. “It’s expected that the broader community, including the student outreach teams, university leaders and staff, will educate anyone who is ignoring or unaware of the policy [….] but there is no punitive enforcement.”
Speaking to The Daily, Guenther also noted that the working group is consulting the broader Montreal community. “I’m meeting with FACE [Fine Arts Core Education] school […] on [Rue] University, I’ve reached out to John Abbott College at MacDonald campus, I’ve reached out to Gault Estate and I’m about to reach out to some of the unions as well, trade unions especially, to see how [the policy] will impact them,” he explained.
Stigmatization and security concerns
The town hall began with a student asking for the reason behind ruling out punitive measures. A representative from McGill Security attending the discussion responded that this would require “individuals to identify themselves in order to receive punitive penalties [which] is something that is really hard to do.”
Guenther added the major universities surveyed by the working group did not use punitive measures.
Another student brought up concerns regarding stigmatization. “For some people, including myself, cigarettes and tobacco products are a way to cope with […] stress,” he said. “[Also], just because I am a smoker, people will harass me, and you’re really only encouraging that policy by putting smokers in a corner and alienating us. So how would you respond to this?”
He further said that during exams, having to walk to Sherbrooke, for example, would add stress on smokers.
“We are not, by this policy, mandating students to stop smoking, in any way, shape or form,” Benrimoh said. “I know that it does impose some restrictions on [smokers]. [But] because it is not a technique of stress relief that is only limited to yourself and actually causes harm to others, it’s unfair to allow it in an area where it’s harming others.” He also acknowledged the policy may result in stigmatization.
Attendees also brought up the issue of safety for smokers when studying on campus late at night.
“You’re putting students in a problematic situation where [they’re] on the streets late at night, away from any security. How do you respond to that?” one student asked.
Another student also noted that there have been security incidents late at night on streets adjacent to campus.
Benrimoh said that the working group could consult McGill Security’s patrol routes and potentially adjust the policy, and that, if students feel unsafe at night, this is a bigger concern the University should address.
After the town hall, in an interview with The Daily, Benrimoh reflected that “the comments today were especially useful. I think the most useful one was the question about security and I think that we do have to talk with McGill Security.”