On November 9, the University of Toronto announced that it will implement a smoking ban on all three campuses, effective January 1. Smoking tobacco and cannabis, as well as the use of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices, will no longer be permitted. Exceptions will be made for Indigenous ceremonies and medical use.
Two contributors debate the merits of the policy.
A welcome change
This ban could not come soon enough. It is high time that the university protects its students, staff, and facilities from the effects of smoking.
Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T’s Vice-President Human Resources & Equity, said that the purpose of the updated smoking policy is to “ensure that we have a healthy campus.” Taking into consideration the negative consequences of first and secondhand tobacco and cannabis smoke, as well as the cleanliness of the campus, the policy change is set to make a positive impact on the university.
In 2017, Statistics Canada found that almost one in five Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 are currently tobacco smokers. The health effects of tobacco smoke are well-documented but are nonetheless worth mentioning. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, smoking causes approximately 30 per cent of all cancer deaths and 85 per cent of all lung cancer deaths each year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco is responsible for more deaths per year than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined.
The effects of smoking extend far beyond the user — especially harming the environment and bystanders. Research shows that there is no safe level of secondhand tobacco smoke. It contains both mainstream smoke, which is exhaled from the smoker’s mouth, and sidestream smoke, which is emitted from the end of the cigarette.
Sidestream smoke is actually more toxic than the smoke inhaled by the smoker; it contains smaller particles, which make their way into the lungs more easily.
Around two-thirds of the smoke emitted from a cigarette can be inhaled by anyone in the area, and this inhalation is involuntary and dangerous. According to the American Lung Association, tobacco smoke contains about 4,000 toxic chemicals, 40 of which have known links to cancer. The effects of the smoke can be measured within five minutes of exposure, and all too often, students do not get to choose whether they are exposed.
Over 800 non-smokers die from lung cancer and heart disease due to exposure to secondhand smoke every year in Canada, and shielding U of T’s community from this preventable phenomenon is of paramount importance. Ridding the campus of this damaging practice will protect both students and faculty, and hopefully create a safer and healthier environment for all.
The recent legalization of recreational cannabis in Ontario played a part in the university’s discussion of the smoking ban. Though not as severe as tobacco smoke, cannabis still has negative effects on both first and secondhand smokers.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, firsthand cannabis smokers exhibit significant airway inflammation, increased airway resistance, and lung hyperinflation, and those who smoke regularly report more symptoms of chronic bronchitis. What has been found about the effects of secondhand cannabis smoke is not promising.
A study conducted on rats found that secondhand exposure to cannabis smoke negatively affected blood vessels as much as tobacco smoke, and the effects lasted for a longer period. Just as with tobacco smoke, the university has a responsibility to minimize cannabis smoke risks experienced by its community on campus.
Keeping the university hospitable will be a welcome consequence of the ban. Cigarette waste is a substantial issue on campuses that permit smoking.
A project undertaken at two universities in San Diego showed the scope of cigarette waste on campus. In an hour, volunteers at both universities managed to collect over 30,000 cigarette butts, averaging almost 400 per volunteer. This kind of saturation can make outdoor spaces unpleasant and off-putting when coupled with secondhand smoke.
This policy is not meant to punish smokers. After all, the administration will work to make the transition easier for smokers on all campuses by offering to create temporary smoking areas and making smoking cessation services available.
Ori Gilboa is a first-year Humanities student at Victoria College.
When I first caught wind of the Trudeau government’s intentions to legalize cannabis during the 2015 federal election, I will admit that I was not a fan. I have not and actively choose not to engage with any form of smoking. But today, I go about my daily life unhindered by the legality of cannabis. I have made peace with my prejudice on the substance.
I am therefore nothing but puzzled when I look at the smoking policy set to take effect in the new year. As the university is an apparent defender of personal freedoms, the decision to implement this policy is overreaching and unrealistic. The ban take away the personal choice of students, staff, and any other person on campus to smoke.
Not to mention, regulations on outdoor smoking are already enforced by the Ontario government. The regulation addresses the legalities of smoking in venues such as patios, playgrounds, and outside areas.
While many studies have concluded that these activities pose risks to the user, controlling, instead of banning, outdoor smoking already reduces the health impacts on the general public.
I worry that Campus Police will be preoccupied with cannabis-related complaints. But campus safety should be one of the most important priorities for the university. Walk-safe programs, adequate lighting, and nighttime security are pillars to working toward a safe campus for all. Campus Police works with the university on this, in addition to responding to many calls dealing with various assaults.
In its 2016 Annual Report, the police service noted that it uses campus resources wherever possible, but sometimes outside resources are required for training and development. I hope the new ban will not put a strain on the work that the police do every day.
After decades of cigarettes being smoked on campus, it is also curious that the university has suddenly decided to implement this smoking ban. I cannot help but notice the timely fashion of the policy in relation to the recent legalization of cannabis.
For a university that is working to erode the existence of stigmas on campus — through education campaigns on mental health or LGBTQ+ issues, for example — it seems to me that the stigma around cannabis is the cornerstone to one of the most controversial policies introduced to date.
In addition to already infringing on personal choice, the university seems to disregard the practicality of the ban. Make no mistake: this policy is not pragmatic. U of T’s three campuses make up hundreds of acres of land. UTSG alone includes land from the intersection of Bloor Street West and Spadina Avenue to Bay Street and College Street. The university is often an escape from the bustling city that is Toronto.
And the campus is not a gated kingdom; many members of the public pass through campus every day. It would therefore not be realistic to prohibit smoking in this environment.
We also need to acknowledge what is being asked of those who decide to smoke: if you choose to smoke, you must travel off-campus. But it’s not clear where exactly off-campus would be. If a student were to be in the middle of King’s College Circle, it would be inconvenient for them to walk 10–15 minutes just to smoke for two minutes. It could also have a clear impact on their punctuality to class and extracurricular commitments.
It seems that the administration did not account for the experiences of a student who smokes when deciding to roll out this policy. As the policy moves forward, I would expect a certain level of compromise: designated smoking areas, to say the least.
Our time, money, and attention should focus on the student experience. Ostracizing students for their personal choice to smoke is not a step in an equitable direction.
We should consult with students who do not smoke and consult with students who do. Bringing diverse voices to the table that appreciate the input of each other will live out the equitable practices we preach. While the idea of smoking may be unattractive to those who do not engage in it, like myself, I will not allow my preference to trump another’s agency.