VIU implemented a new smoking policy on the Nanaimo campus last fall, designed to reduce students’ and faculties’ exposure to second-hand smoke—but not everybody on campus is happy about it.
The new smoking policy, which was effective as of Sept. 2012, establishes 11 designated areas for tobacco use around campus and replacing the old policy, which permitted smoking in any area five or more metres from doorways. Along with the new policy came several old bus shelters from the Regional District of Nanaimo, which have been repurposed to serve as smoking shelters.
“The old policy didn’t work because people could smoke anywhere,” says Erin Bascom, Coordinator of Health and Safety Services at VIU. “When it would rain, people would gather under awnings, and the yellow lines [showing] non-smoking areas were confusing to international students.”
Bascom says that the change in policy was necessary, due to the large number of complaints that Health and Safety Services were receiving from staff and students. Reworking the smoking policy has been a focus of several B.C. institutions lately; the University of Victoria and University of British Columbia both adopted similar policies in 2011 and 2012, respectively, and Camosun College implemented a full tobacco ban in 2011. According to Stats Canada, the 20- to 34-year-old range held the highest percentage of smokers in 2011, with over 25 percent smoking daily or occasionally, compared to the overall average of 19.9 percent.
“Personally, I find the [new] policy a little too extensive,” says VIU Theatre student Andrew Pye. “I understand not wanting smokers near doors because non-smokers care about health and everything, but now the University is crowding smokers into a tight little corner and using empty threats like they are going to take our student cards and expel us if we don’t comply. They’re treating us like children.”
Bascom said that the new policy has not only reduced students’ and staffs’ exposure to second-hand smoke, but has also given smokers a place where they will not be harassed, as well as improved clean-up time for custodians.
Bascom says that an outright tobacco ban was discussed when the new policy was being written last year. “We floated the idea round, but there were worries about a push-back on potential enrollment. I wouldn’t rule it out for the future though—any university that’s done the change has had success, but every university is different. It could be possible depending on compliance.” However, some students are not thrilled about a potential tobacco ban on campus.
“University can be a stressful place,” says VIU student Reid Eccles, “and people like to smoke when they’re under stress. I understand that lowering tobacco use in general is important, but the University shouldn’t be taking something like that into their own hands. Who’s going to enforce something like that, anyway? It would just end up being a waste of time and money.”
According to Bascom, reception to the new policy has been warm, and although a few individuals have voiced their disagreement with it, no groups have officially banned together to oppose it.
Some individuals had ideas of what kind of policy they would like to see implemented on campus.
“I think it would be great if VIU had a program to help students to quit,” says Pye. “Not force them to but maybe have a program or place to assist with free help or gum or something. I see no harm in helping students quit an unhealthy habit but currently the school is making smokers smoke more in my opinion by just being against them. And for events like dances, sports playoffs, and plays many people don’t obey [the policy], so maybe a curfew time like after 5 p.m. you’re free to smoke anywhere on campus would be more effective.”
Despite being in support of a full tobacco ban, Boscom realizes that change in the policy will not come easily. “I think it’s going to be a constant battle.”