Smokers at Alberta pushed too far

Current policies do enough to protect non-smokers

Photo by Ed Yourdon on Flickr

Every student has some way of relieving stress during final exams. Just imagine for a moment that your relaxation method is suddenly prohibited.

That is the dilemma now faced by smokers at the University of Alberta if a new policy introduced by a select group of University of Alberta Students’ Union councillors goes ahead (it has already passed the first reading). The policy would restrict on-campus smoking to remote areas of university property called “health promoting areas.”

This would leave students who want to engage in an unhealthy—but perfectly legal vice—marginalized on their own campus.

Smoking at U of A is already restricted to areas away from all entrances to buildings and on-campus residences, air intakes, and athletic fields, according to Tobacco Free Campus. That means that tobacco-hating students and staff are already able to avoid smokers en route to classes.

But many want even harsher restrictions like those at other schools. The University of Calgary has harsh rules already in effect, the Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland has been smoke-free for one school year and Dalhousie University has had a campus ban since 2003.

It’s no secret that smoking is highly addictive and that it’s difficult for individuals to quit. That’s one reason, according to Health Canada, that 17 per cent of Canadian citizens still describe themselves as frequent smokers. Although this is a rather low percentage, and is continually decreasing, it suggests smokers are still a fairly large minority group within the student body and staff.

While tobacco restrictions in certain areas make sense, and help protect the rights of students who don’t wish to be exposed to second-hand smoke, smokers should have some rights too. A near-ban on campus would restrict the rights of a large minority. The current restrictions go far enough.

Ravanne Lawday is in Year Two of English/Comparative Literature at the University of Alberta.

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Smokers at Alberta pushed too far

  1. This change would not be within the Students’ Union’s jurisdiction; I presume that the policy being introduced by the councillors would actually be to have the Students’ Union call on the University to introduce that policy. Given the Students’ Union’s overall success rate at convincing the University to do what it wants,* that’s a far cry from actually having the change made.

    I think it’s silly, but then I was part of a losing effort to have the Students’ Union-owned convenience store continue to sell cigarettes back in the day – the trend seems to be towards nanny-ism.

    *Not a criticism of the S.U.; “quixotic” is sort of in its job description.

  2. I think the decision to discontinue selling cigarettes at SUBMart (or whatever its was called) was not really nannyism, but rather about whether the SU wanted to profit (or make an attempt thereof) from selling a harmful substance to the students which it is supposed to serve. I think selling cigarettes is inconsistent with the SU’s simultaneous goal to promote student health & wellness.

    These “Health Promoting Areas”, aside from sounding Orwellian, are potentially nannying. The issue is whether smoking elsewhere on campus constitutes a significant risk of second-hand smoke exposure to other students. If so, then the isn’t about nannying smokers, but rather protecting non-smokers from involuntary exposure to a major health hazard. The key word in those previous sentences, however, is “significant”. I don’t know whether it is “significant” or not (it likely was when people could smoke at the entrance to buildings, but that has been addressed).

  3. Unless things have changed over the course of the past year (and they may have) even though smoking isn’t supposed to occur at the entrances to buildings, student still smoke in those areas. When I was visiting the U of A campus last year, I couldn’t avoid the second-hand smoke. If things have changed in a year, then I’m glad to hear it!

  4. I don’t think this is going too far. Lung cancer is one of the top cancers killing Canadian’s (according to the Canadian Cancer Society) and studies are showing that about 90% of lung cancers are attributable to smoking. People should be free to walk around school and not get a face full of toxins.

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