Smoking mad

By Вen Li

The future of cigarette smo-king on the University of Calgary campus is important enough that students, staff and faculty should be genuinely consulted prior to important decisions. Yet the U of C sub-committee responsible for smoking on campus has virtually decided for the entire U of C community that the campus will be smoke-free by September 2006, a decision being made this summer when most students and many staff and faculty are absent and cannot object.

The Smoke-Free U of C sub-committee is headed by a nursing professor and additionally consists of four Calgary Health Region nurses (and an undergraduate daughter of one), the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission representatives, members of the U of C administration and two Students’ Union officials. The nine- member sub-committee lacks smo- kers, faculty and AUPE representatives, and had been very public about its anti-smoking efforts until recently.

In 2002 when the City of Calgary began severely limiting indoor smoking in public areas in Calgary, the Smoke-Free U of C sub-committee’s predecessor enacted an unenforced policy banning smoking within 15 metres of doorways and other building air intakes. It also began actively promoting smoking cessation programs to staff.

In 2003, the sub-committee was in part responsible for making all indoor areas smoke-free, followed by the joint “Butts are gross” poster campaign with AADAC. However, after the U of C received a $50,000 grant from AADAC in January 2004 to “develop policy, coordinate a multi-faceted counter-marketing campaign and promote student support of a campus-wide smoking policy”, they became silent about aggressive plans to completely eliminate smoking on campus.

The January 12, 2004 Health, Safety and Security Committee meeting at which the AADAC grant was officially recorded was the last at which smoking was mentioned, according to publicly available minutes. This despite the fact that smoking has been discussed at virtually every HSSC meeting during 2000-2003.

Now, it seems, the only member of the Smoke Free U of C sub-committee who is critical of the plan is Students’ Union Vice-President Events Alex Vyskocil. Though one SU member has always been a part of the committee, Vyskocil says students were only consulted about the prohibition plan this summer.

As Vyskocil states in this week’s cover story, the sub-committee “seems like a group of non-smokers telling people not to smoke”. More disturbingly, the committee drafted its controversial plan in the summer, when many of the estimated 10-40 per cent of all smokers on campus are not present to object to the decision that would prohibit their habit. The first three stages of the draft plan through May 2005 (see graphic, page 1) consist almost entirely of concessions from the SU, with the university being only to “designate outdoor smoking areas”.

Regardless of the debate pertaining to the smoking issue itself, this type of decision-making reeks of distrust. 28,635 students, including graduates, are trusted with choosing and paying for an education. 2,450 staff and almost as many faculty are trusted with providing this education. Yet only nine non-smokers of the lot are entrusted to privately make decisions that will affect the U of C’s share of the estimated 23 percent of Albertans who smoke. Consultation with any of the estimated 7,500 affected individuals is not encouraged, and nowhere in the literature encouraging staff and faculty were to take advantage of their smoking cessation benefits does it mention the sub-committee’s plan for an outright ban. Since the smoking reduction campaign began in earnest two years ago students–the largest group on campus– were, and still are, left to their own devices to quit smoking.

If the smoking elimination plan goes through, smokers will have to satiate their habit with cigarettes bought off-campus, and light up in the residential community around campus or across a busy street where traffic killed two pedestrian students last year. But the neighborhood we wish to become our ashtray has no representation on the sub-committee. Nor is the sub-committee subjecting to criticism the exceedingly poor idea of sending intoxicated residence students across 24 Ave. in the night to get their tobacco fix.

When it was finally announced in January 2000 that the Black Lounge, the last indoor smoking venue, was to be closed by the SU, students and staff alike were outraged that they would lose the venue in September of the same year. Consultation mollified many of their concerns. The university sub-committee should deviate from its current path of silent enlightenment toward one more consistent with the needs of those they try to serve.

Government infrequently deserves praise for delaying important decisions that could affect the entire electorate, but an exception is deserved presently.

The Students’ Union has the dignity to delay their decision regarding the future of tobacco sponsorship until the best possible deal can be reached, and until more students can be consulted closer to the fall semester.

The SU has taken an important step toward responsible and representative decision-making by acknowledging the need to balance the new program opportunities granted by tobacco sponsorship monies, the health of students, the desires of concert and Den patrons who smoke and the needs of the broader community. After all, taking a 30 per cent hit to Den patronage due to a ban on smoking is an important decision, one that should be for students to make indirectly or otherwise.

This decision to not put a vote on tobacco sponsorship before a reduced council in the summer is a sign that students’ needs matter to at least one organization on campus.

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