News | McGill to be smoke-free by 2023

Students concerned that stress, not smoking is the root of the issue

On January 24, the McGill student body received an email on behalf of Robert Couvrette, Vice-Principal, Facilities Management and Ancillary Services, informing students that McGill campuses would be “largely smoke-free as of May 1st, 2018.” The policy was adopted by McGill’s Board of Governors on December 12, 2017 and explicitly states that “its objective is to promote and preserve the health and well-being of all members of the University community.”

Prior to the adoption of the policy, the Health and Safety Committee at McGill held consultations concerning the policy which involved students, faculty, and staff from both campuses, which, according to McGill, “indicated that a significant majority of the McGill community [ … ] support the creation of smoke-free campuses.” Such a policy was put into place in compliance with the Tobacco Control Act of Quebec, which requires college- or university-level educational institutions to “adopt a tobacco control policy geared to establishing a smoke-free environment.”

Under McGill’s definition of smoking, i.e. “the usage and consumption of any product whether or not it contains or otherwise utilizes tobacco or tobacco-derived substances, and emits a vapor or smoke,” e-cigarettes would be banned on campus.

Furthermore, Section 1.1 of the Tobacco Control Act states that “tobacco” also includes accessories such as “cigarette tubes, rolling paper and filters, pipes […] and cigarette holders,” which will also be prohibited. It remains unclear whether McGill will comply with this extension of the definition of tobacco.

In an interview with the Daily, Isabelle Oke, SSMU VP University Affairs, explained how McGill’s smoking policy was originally brought forward by a medicine senator a couple years ago, who subsequently passed around a plebiscite asking how people felt about banning smoking on campus.

Oke explains there were some concerns about the effectiveness of implementing the policy due to McGill’s campus not being a “contiguous space.” Oke further states that, “there is a limit to what a ban can accomplish or how functional [it is and] how it can be implemented.”

“there is a limit to what a ban can accomplish or how functional [it is and] how it can be implemented.”

“Implementing a ban on campus is tricky, so there were a lot of logistical questions that came up because, for example, McTavish isn’t […] campus property, so if you’re going to ban campus areas, it doesn’t mean no one on campus is going to be exposed to smoke anymore because there are a lot of spaces that are still city property”.

The line between campus property and city property on streets such as McTavish, Doctor-Penfield, Peel, and University, remains unclear, leaving many wondering how bans on smoking around certain buildings could be enforced.

Nonetheless, the new policy mandates that smoking will be “prohibited outside of designated smoking areas” on the downtown and Macdonald campuses and at the Gault Reserve; the designated smoking areas are marked on a map provided on McGill’s Environmental Health and Safety webpage describing the policy. The policy specifically outlines that “smoking will no longer be permitted on the west side of the Redpath Library Building.”

In the Procedure Concerning Smoking at McGill University, section 4.2 states that the “University is not attempting to stigmatize those who smoke, nor create conflict within the campus community,” however this statement, under the Compliance heading of the procedure document, is not present in the policy provided on McGill’s website outlining smoking on campus.

section 4.2 states that the “University is not attempting to stigmatize those who smoke, nor create conflict within the campus community,”

Oke expressed her thought to the Daily that the university integrated this statement in the procedure in order to signal to students that “this policy doesn’t allow for discrimination,” in regards to concerns brought up around the overrepresentation of “queer, trans, [and] people of colour in the population of smokers.” Due to these advertising practices, queer populations, ethnic minorities, and those with a lower socioeconomic status are oftentimes targeted and overrepresented within the smoking population.

Section 4.1 of the policy states that it will provide “educational campaigns, outreach, communication and the promotion of tobacco cessation treatment options” as the “primary means to promote compliance.” Additionally, the university reiterated its commitment to providing “referrals for cessation,” and has delineated resources available which include counselling from McGill Counselling & Mental Health Services.

Oke also explains that there is a “peer-policing-peer” model to be put in place which would involve students regulating the smoking habits of their peers on campus. According to the procedure, the policy will be self-endorsed by community members which includes “trained McGill security agents”, “student outreach teams […] activated every September,” as well as “University directors and managers.”

A U2 student in Gender, Sexuality, Feminism, Social Justice (GSFS) at McGill, who wished to remain anonymous; who has smoked regularly for three years and still occasionally smokes, offered their thoughts on the policy.

“I think you have to look at [… ]why people are smoking, and it’s because they’re really stressed,” they began, explaining their concern that McGill needs to be aware of how one of the largest contingent of student smokers belong to marginalized communities.

“It’s kind of […] another way that McGill gets to control those bodies instead of actually addressing the root cause,” they continued. “I think if they actually were worried about the welfare of students, then they would […] put more resources into for example the mental health.”

“It’s kind of […] another way that McGill gets to control those bodies instead of actually addressing the root cause”

They further stated that they think that “students are coming out of classes not feeling supported, […] not feeling […] included in the community, […] feeling like they don’t belong, and all those things contribute to stress which could lead someone to smoke.”

According to the document, the goal of the policy is for the campus to become completely smoke-free by the next five years (i.e. by May 1, 2023) from the effective date of the policy. The “designated smoking areas” on campus are referred to as transitory measures.

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