University considering challenges implementing new policy

The University of Ottawa is working towards becoming a completely smoke-free campus to promote a healthier environment for students.

The discussion surrounding a potential smoke free campus started as a result of two main initiatives: a student survey conducted this past spring and rapidly approaching changes in Ontario legislation.

“We had over 65 per cent strongly in favour of going completely smoke free,” says Michael Histed, the director of risk management at the U of O, who conducted a survey this past spring to students about making campus smoke-free.

The Faculty of Health Sciences campus at Smyth Road must go smoke free on Jan. 1, 2018 to keep in line with the updated Ontario Smoke Free Act. This requires all hospital campuses to go smoke free, along with the support from the survey has pushed the university to look at making the change.

“We assessed that the campus is already close to 80 per cent smoke free already with the nine metres around entrances and air intakes to buildings, patios and terraces, and sports areas,” said Histed.

Simon Savard, a second-year student at the Telfer School of Management, who is a smoker, says that he can get on board with the shift, despite the fact that it would make smoke breaks in between classes more difficult.

“I smoke, but I know a lot of friends and family who definitely make a conscious effort to avoid it,” said Savard. “I know that it can have serious repercussions, even second-hand, and I understand the university trying to prevent that.”

On the other hand, third-year Faculty of Engineering student Alex Desjardins said that he doesn’t see the policy succeeding.

“I understand where they are going with this and I know why it is successful at hospitals,” he said. “But I feel like students will just duck behind buildings or trees and smoke anyways.”

Histed also acknowledged many of the challenges that would come along with enforcing the initiative, such as the fact that the U of O campus is in the heart of downtown Ottawa, as well as that the general public will be using the light-rail transit lines close to 200 Lees Ave. and the main campus.

“Enforcement will likely remain a challenge,” said Histed. “We will of course encourage programs to help staff or students quit smoking and we are looking at enhancements to the health insurance program for staff.”

One such program is the Leave the Pack Behind program through the Faculty of Health Sciences, which has been successfully run across Ontario. This program offers young adults resources and support for quitting smoking.

Histed also acknowledged the federal government’s rules surrounding marijuana come into effect July 1, 2018.  

“There are many discussions that need to take place at the university to ensure that the university finds the proper mechanisms to ensure compliance,” he said. “The smoke-free policy will likely be one of the vehicles used, however there are other issues that need to be addressed as well as the act of smoking marijuana.”

This is not the first time that a university campus has made the transition to being smoke-free, Histed mentioned that McMaster University, the University of Prince Edward Island, and Dalhousie University are already smoke free, with more on the way.  

“Benefits of having a smoke free campus include a healthier, environmentally cleaner campus,” said Histed. “Smoking is considered one of the highest risk factors for worker wellness, as well as easier to identify where smoking is permitted or not.”

Histed said that the university will be conducting further consultations with staff and students this fall on some of the challenges they might face if they do decide to go smoke free. If this policy is approved, it will be implemented next year.