Opinion: What happened to the smoke-free policy at U of T?

Why students have been ignoring the policy since its enactment

Opinion: What happened to the smoke-free policy at U of T?

I was standing outside Sidney Smith Hall when one of my friends lit a cigarette. He closed his eyes and took a nonchalant long drag, as if he were a character in a James Bond movie.

I, on the other hand, glanced around nervously to check if anyone saw or was bothered by it. Didn’t he know smoking on university grounds had been banned for a year now? I shot him a dirty look.

“What? No one cares,” he said laughingly.

I stood there, slouching in the corner, waiting for him to finish smoking his cigarette, and watched people pass by. No one looked up or glanced our way, let alone tried to stop my friend from smoking. He was right — no one cared. But the real question was, why?

On December 13, 2018, U of T’s Governing Council passed a smoke-free policy. Starting January 1, 2019, smoking, holding a lighted tobacco or cannabis cigarette, and using an e-cigarette or any other vaping device on university property would not be allowed. It didn’t matter if you were smoking on a locked roof somewhere or in one of the many secluded gardens around the university — smoking was banned everywhere.

The policy was introduced to provide a healthy environment for everyone at U of T and to protect students from second-hand smoke. This was both a bold step and a sign of good will, considering that “800 non-smokers die each year from lung cancer and heart disease through exposure to second-hand smoke,” according to U of T.

However, the policy failed to work for two reasons.

First, U of T’s administration didn’t clarify the penalties for smoking on campus. The policy simply reads, “Enforcement measures will depend on the individual’s relationship with the university, the nature of the infraction, and the place in which it occurred.” Thus, lack of clarity around consequences failed to stop people from smoking on campus.

Second, unlike UTSC and UTM, the administration at St. George also apparently didn’t think it was important to create accessible designated smoking areas, noting that community members can smoke on “city-owned property.” There were so many problems with this. For starters, people don’t know which streets are part of campus and which are not, meaning that they are not sure where they can and can’t smoke.

Further, it just doesn’t make sense for U of T to have people walking around policing students on where they can smoke and where they cannot. Hence, the policy didn’t quite take off like it was supposed to.

As a result, people are still smoking everywhere — especially with the popularity of e-cigarettes. I started noticing people taking Juul hits inside classrooms, under the table in study areas, or sometimes even in university bathrooms. While walking around, I started looking out for cigarette buds as well. I found most of them lying in front of Robarts Library, followed by the Bahen Centre for Information Technology. The findings made sense though. Those are two of the many populous places for late-night study sessions on campus, and students usually take a lot of cigarette breaks.

It was finally after these multitude of observations that I realized where students’ apathy toward the policy was coming from. It was simply from the lack of enforcement and penalization connected to the policy, and hence, we chose to ignore it.

And therefore, the smoke-free policy only exists now as a stark reminder of something that is well intended, yet ridiculous.

Opinion: UTM students take a breath of fresh air thanks to institution-wide smoking ban

Transition period, designated smoking areas lead to a cleaner campus, healthier students

Opinion: UTM students take a breath of fresh air thanks to institution-wide smoking ban

Following the legalization of cannabis last October, U of T announced plans to ban smoking on all campuses by the start of 2019. According a report by the Canadian Cancer Society, the legalization of marijuana “will pose a challenge for campuses that are not 100% smoke-free, and provides further rationale for adoption of a comprehensive smoke-free policy.”

Few need a reminder of the negative impacts of smoking. Health classes from elementary school to high school extensively cover the adverse effects that smoking can have on your body. Furthermore, cigarette packages feature grotesque images, tragic stories, and startling facts that warn buyers of their harmful nature. And yet, Statistics Canada reports that smoking is still “the leading cause of premature death in Canada.”

Smokers between the ages of 18–34 account for 19.2 per cent of all smokers in Canada, making up the second largest age group for smokers. This translates to 1.5 million people, a number which has remained consistent between 2017 and 2018.

While the common perception may be that smoking poses more harm to the smoker than to those around them, smoking affects all. Non-smokers experience an almost equivalent risk as smokers, since “Most of the smoke from a lit cigarette is not inhaled by the smoker. It fills the air around the smoker. This endangers everyone in the area.”

Many students, myself included, can attest to the plumes of cigarette smoke that used to cloud the entrances of many buildings. At UTM this is particularly true of the Instructional Centre. Smokers would congregate less than the regulated nine metres away from the entrance, with puffs of grey smoke billowing from the butts of their lit cigarettes. We, the non-smokers, trekked to class with breaths held and steps hurried in order to avoid inhaling any of the over-4,000 chemicals present in the cigarettes.

Designated smoking areas

With the smoking ban and the introduction of designated smoking areas, I saw a decline in the number of smokers assembling in front of the building entrances. Moreover, students previously burdened by the smoke-filled air can now take a breath of fresh air thanks to the ban.

Conversely, for smokers who have become used to the designated smoking areas, the end of the transitional phase may raise concerns. Designated smoking areas are a decent remedy, but they unfortunately fail to address the real issue: the addictive nature of nicotine and nature of withdrawal, both of which will not dissipate like vapour with the smoke-free policy.

The physical effects of smoking

In recent weeks, a number of newspapers reported on the surge of vaping-related deaths in the US, with 34 deaths reported this year. Much of the marketing for vaping frames it as a “cessation tool,” despite there being little research on its effects on health. One user cited the switch to e-cigarettes as a measure to stave off cigarettes. This unsubstantiated narrative of e-cigarettes being a safer alternative has encouraged its popularity, especially among young people.

More frightening is the fact that more than half of the 1,604 cases of lung injuries related to e-cigarettes were under the age of 25.

The Ontario Lung Association reports that in Ontario, “13,000 people are killed annually by smoking, which translates to 36 people a day.”

The troubling and unfortunate reality is that smoking kills.

Governing bodies

Universities exercise the right to govern student bodies when their actions negatively affect other students. While students should, and do, have the right to choose whether they smoke or not, inhaling secondhand smoke is an involuntary action and policies such as this one offer a way to protect these students.

Additionally, for university students concerned about their GPA, studies by the Tobacco Technical Assistance Consortium have found that “students who use tobacco are shown to have lower GPA’s than those who do not.”

The smoking ban seeks to further the university’s goal of a cleaner and healthier campus. However, a more in-depth study on the reasons for smoking may be beneficial to promote healthier lifestyles and address the real concerns behind smoking.

Belicia Chevolleau is a fourth-year Communication, Culture, and Information Technology student at UTM.

Proposed smoking ban will not affect federated colleges

USMC, Trinity, Victoria in process of creating own policies

Proposed smoking ban will not affect federated colleges

U of T’s proposed smoke-free policy — which will ban most forms of smoking effective January 1 — will not apply to the three federated colleges of University of St. Michael’s College (USMC), the University of Trinity College, and Victoria University, though they are all in the process of creating similar smoking bans.

U of T’s policy also will not apply to U of T-affiliated Toronto School of Theology (TST)’s Knox College, Regis College, St. Augustine’s Seminary, and Wycliffe College. These institutions are independent of the University of Toronto Act, meaning that they have their own governance processes.


USMC is currently undergoing a consultation process on a smoking ban before a recommendation is made to the university’s Collegium, its governing body, in the spring.

According to President David Sylvester, USMC has consulted senior administration, St. Michael’s College Student Union leaders, staff, and faculty thus far. They are also finalizing a community survey.

“We’re not going to invite U of T into our consultation; we weren’t part of theirs… It really is up to us to talk about this and consult with our community,” said Sylvester in an interview with The Varsity.

A smoke-free policy would cover all of USMC’s grounds, including St. Basil’s Collegiate Church. Loretto College Women’s Residence is a separate property, so a separate policy would have to be implemented.

“Whatever policy we develop would include all of our buildings, all of our lands. Of course, like U of T and the other [federated colleges], we’re intersected with public streets, so it complicates matters,” said Sylvester.

Sylvester added that USMC will review U of T’s policy to ensure that its own will not miss important considerations, such as accommodations, and guaranteed that it would allow smoking for ceremonial and medicinal purposes.

Victoria University

According to Victoria University’s Bursar and Chief Administrative Officer Ray deSouza, the administration is consulting with students, faculty, and staff but “there is no time line at this point.” The final policy would eventually have to go to the Board of Regents for a final resolution. 

In an email to The Varsity, Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) President Jayde Jones wrote that VUSAC has not been involved in drafting or consultations regarding the policy, although representatives have had discussions with Victoria University administration.

“It is important to recognize that students living with addiction are disproportionately members of marginalized communities… In light of this, we are advocating for Vic to develop permanent, accessible, safe, and comfortable smoking spaces on campus,” wrote Jones.

Jones said that Dean of Students Kelley Castle told student representatives that smoking cessation programs would be made available on Victoria University’s campus. deSouza added that smoking accommodations for Indigenous ceremony and medicinal purposes would be permitted.

University of Trinity College

Trinity College’s Director of Communications Young Um confirmed that a smoke-free policy at Trinity College is under consideration, and that the college “will be working through [its] own governance process at the Senate and Board of Trustees.”

Um did not comment on whether Trinity has consulted with U of T over its policy or what the expected timeline for the policy’s possible implementation is.

The Board of Trustees is composed of 28 members of the college and is responsible for approving policy recommendations made by the Senate. The Senate is concerned with the establishment of academic policy.

TST colleges

The TST is a U of T-affiliated consortium of theological colleges, including USMC, the University of Trinity College, and Emmanuel College. Each college under the TST has its own governance structure and would be responsible for implementing its own smoke-free policy.

Knox College, located near Convocation Hall at UTSG, and St. Augustine’s Seminary, located in Scarborough, both have existing smoke-free policies.

Senior management at Wycliffe College wrote to The Varsity, “As with most of our policies, [Wycliffe] will follow the University of Toronto’s lead in implementing a Smoke Free Policy.” Implementation would go through Wycliffe’s own governance process, including its Health and Safety Committee.

Regis College is also likely to follow U of T’s policy, although the urgency of implementing such a policy is unclear. In an email to The Varsity, Regis College President Thomas Worcester wrote, “Smoking of tobacco is a really non-issue at Regis, and seems likely a matter from the last century! The battle to eliminate smoking from campus has been largely won, and a while ago.”


Speaking at the Business Board meeting on November 26, Vice-President Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat said that enforcement of U of T’s smoke-free policy would primarily focus on educating the community about the risks of smoking and secondhand smoke.

In a statement to The Varsity, U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church wrote, “Training is planned for campus police with a view to educating our community across our three campuses. We will work with our college partners when the details of their policies are in place.”

At USMC, Sylvester likewise emphasized that enforcement of a policy would focus on education. However, legal issues that may arise in enforcement of the policy would still fall to Campus Police rather than MCOR, the private security firm that USMC employs.

Since no draft of a policy at Victoria University has yet been released, Jones said it is unclear whether VUSAC’s concerns, including enforcement, will be addressed.

The TST did not respond to a request for comment.

Editor’s Note (December 19, 7:20 pm): The article has been updated to remove a statement Jones made incorrectly about a planned timeline at Victoria.

The heart-stopping truth about smoking cessation drug

U of T prof finds varenicline to have adverse side effects

The heart-stopping truth about smoking cessation drug

As of 2014, approximately 5.4 million Canadians smoked daily or occasionally. The fight for smoking cessation has largely been made possible by varenicline, a prescription drug used to reduce the effects of nicotine.

A recent study spearheaded by Andrea Gershon, Lung Health Lead at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and an associate professor in U of T’s Department of Medicine, pointed to some alarming side effects of varenicline.

According to the study, the use of varenicline is associated with an increased number of serious cardiovascular events in the 12 weeks after starting varenicline use. The study reported a 34 per cent increase in risk of cardiovascular events in patients who had previously experienced cardiovascular episodes and a 12 per cent increase in those who had not.

In this study, serious cardiovascular events referred to heart-related conditions such as heart attacks, insufficient blood flow to the heart, heart failure, ischemic heart disease and stroke, abnormal heart beats, and peripheral vascular disease. The researchers also looked for possible neuropsychiatric effects of varenicline, but no serious effects were observed.

Approximately four patients out of 1,000 experience critical varenicline-induced cardiovascular events. Yet the difference between relative increased risk and absolute increased risk should be noted. “If the risk to begin with is pretty low, then [even with a high relative risk,] the absolute risk will also be low,” said Gershon.

The study was observational in nature, and Gershon took advantage of extensive patient data that was at her disposal. “Every time somebody goes to see a doctor or goes to the hospital, someone or some institution gets paid, and all that information is collected in the large health administrative databases.”

This data, run through the ICES, was collected prior to and after patients went on the medication, and then it was analyzed to determine the rate of incidence of cardiovascular events in patients.

This method was relatively beneficial due to the large sample size, which reduced bias. In general, using observational data can save time and money and increase the study’s scope.

There are, however, limitations — observational studies cannot determine causation. Observational data cannot determine whether patients were using other drugs to help quit smoking, or whether the patients quit smoking while taking varenicline.

Gershon stressed that this study addressed limitations commonly associated with an observational study, and she said that the paper underwent “a very strict peer review” process.

Though the study’s authors suggest that more research is required to confirm their findings, until evidence emerges to prove otherwise, it can be assumed that varenicline does increase the risk of cardiovascular events.

In a 2013 review published by the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group, varenicline was found to be the most effective drug for smoking cessation. Smokers were more than twice as likely to quit on varenicline than on a placebo, making it a commonly prescribed smoking cessation aid.

“I think quitting smoking is really important… the benefits of quitting smoking outweigh the risks of this medication,” said Gershon. “It’s complicated — just because somebody takes varenicline, that doesn’t mean they’ll be successful in quitting smoking. How motivated are they? How committed are they? What are their risk factors? It’s hardly an easy decision.”

Every patient is different and extraneous factors such as being predisposed to adverse cardiovascular events will influence how they will react to varenicline.