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[Photo © Kelsey Curtis]

The federal government is considering a new anti-tobacco policy that could ban smoking on post-secondary school campuses in efforts to protect young people from tobacco use and nicotine addiction.

In addition to a creating more smoke-free spaces, new guidelines would see the legal age for buying tobacco products raised to 21 from the current federal age of 18.

Provinces and territories are able to set higher limits and some have opted for 19 as the legal smoking age.

Provincial government signage requiring buyers to be of 19 years or older with photo i.d. to purchase tobacco products. [Photo © Kelsey Curtis]

According to a discussion paper published by Health Canada on Feb. 22, approximately 15 per cent of Canada’s population uses tobacco products, an estimated 3.9 million people. Their new proposal aims at reducing tobacco use to less than five per cent by 2035.

Tobacco use among young adults

Health Canada has reported that tobacco use among the general population is steadily declining. However, the rates of decline are smaller among young people.

The highest prevalence of smokers is found in those between the ages 20 to 24, making up 18 per cent of the smoking population.

Pippa Beck, a senior policy analyst at the Smoking and Health Action Foundation and its sister organization, the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association, says that this can be a result of youth turning to tobacco during difficult periods in their lives.

“There are many students who cope with stress by starting to use tobacco products,” said Beck. “There is a chunk of the population who starts smoking during big transitions and that can be when you start college or university or are moving out and becoming an adult.”

Promotional resource materials for the Leave the Pack Behind campaign. [Photo © Kelsey Curtis]

Tyler Moon is an assistant manager at Leave the Pack Behind, a tobacco control program that offers young smokers information and resources for quitting. He agrees with Beck but says social settings can also be a major factor for young adults.

“When [youth] come onto campuses there is more of a social setting atmosphere,” said Moon. “There is more likelihood of young adults to start smoking socially, which we know could lead to becoming a regular smoker.”

[Infographic © Alex Parsons]

Moon explains that students are at an age where they can party while both drinking and smoking legally. Being in such social environments while drinking alcohol can lead to social smoking that can later become an addiction.

Current post-secondary policies

Each post-secondary school is required to have its own smoking policy. Regulations vary depending on the school and the province in which they reside.

The signage at Carleton University which restricts smoking within 10 meters of a building entrance. Many other schools share this policy. [Photo © Kelsey Curtis]

Typically, smoking is banned within 10 meters of any entrance or exit of all buildings, as well as any open air intakes or windows. Other variations included designated smoking areas and university-wide bans.

In 2003, Dalhousie University became the first post-secondary school to declare its campus smoke-free. Several other universities in Alberta and Atlantic Canada have since also put similar bans in place.

Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) created a university-wide smoking ban in August 2013, with the exception of one designated smoking area. Although it is committed to being smoke-free, the school says that it does not enforce its policy through fines.

“We don’t practice punitive enforcement,” David Sorensen, a MUN representative, said 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.”

A student smoker exhales outside of the Carleton University library. [Photo © Kelsey Curtis]

Maddie Meneguzzi, a second-year communications and political science major at Carleton University, became a regular smoker about a year ago.

She is skeptical that a campus-wide ban would be effective, because she doesn’t see Carleton’s 10-metre rule enforced.

“I’m a firm believer that I shouldn’t be putting other people in that position to have to walk through [smoke],” said Meneguzzi. “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.”

Aside from being told to move away from the doors she says students do not see any repercussion for their actions.

[Infographic © Alex Parsons]

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, only then will they be ticketed.

Beck says that if universities choose to penalize with fines they must do it strategically.

“We advocate that it would be something similar to a library fine.” said Beck. “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.”

While Moon does not believe that community peer-pressure to butt out is enough, Beck disagrees. She says that 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.” said Beck. “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 to the discussion until April 13, 2017.


[Infographic © Karissa Gall]

[Infographic © Karissa Gall]

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