Cutting through the smoking ban’s haze

By Chris Beauchamp

Following the disclosure last month that smoking on the University of Calgary campus may be banned by May 2006, the Students’ Academic Assembly voted overwhelmingly not to endorse the Smoke Free U of C subcommittee’s current policy proposal.

The SAA resolution called the proposed smoking ban an infringement upon “the freedom of students, the Students’ Union, the faculty, and university staff.”

As the SAA is charged with creating academic policy, the resolution on smoking comes as a largely symbolic gesture. SU Vice-President Academic Laura Schultz is worried a complete ban ignores the rights of students who smoke.

“The SAA will not endorse the current smoke-free policy of the SFUC,” she said. “A total ban would really affect smoking students who’d have to walk quite a distance in the cold to get off campus.”

SFUC, a sub-committee of the University Health, Safety and Security Committee, was formed last fall to develop a campus smoking policy, with the eventual objective of eliminating the use and sale of tobacco products on campus. The current draft policy calls for tobacco sales to be banned by Jan. 2005, smoking in the Den and Graduate Student Lounge prohibited by May 2005, and a campus wide ban implemented by May 2006.

Members of SAA are not the only people questioning the policy.

Albi Sole, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Local 52 Chair, acknowledged the issue as an important one with AUPE members.

“We certainly support a reduction in smoking, but we want smokers to feel they’re people too,” said Sole. “My sense is we’re not really ready for a complete ban. On the other hand [the ban] is a couple of years from now, so people may be more accepting, but right now this might be a bit draconian.”

Sole stressed that AUPE members feel their interests are being represented fairly on the SFUC sub- committee.

Alex Vyskocil, SU VP Events, is concerned students may not have the same representation.

“The thing is the sub-committee is made up of almost all community members,” said Vyskocil. “This first draft of the policy was done without serious consultations with the students. For this policy to work, they have to have student ‘buy-in.’”

He said figures provided by the sub-committee estimate that 36-40 per cent of U of C students are smokers. Vyskocil and SU VP Operations and Finance Greg Clayton are representing the SU on the SFUC.

“That’s a large percentage of students,” said Vyskocil. “Telling them to ‘get off campus’ is no solution. None of [the SFUC subcommittee] smoke, and they’re all activists, so it’s hard to find common ground.”

Vyskocil and Clayton believe the final SFUC policy will address these concerns before ultimately being approved by U of C VP Finance and Services Mike McAdam.

“SFUC have come up with, in their minds, a perfect timetable,” said Clayton. “I wouldn’t see this as something set in stone.”

SFUC committee coordinator Yvette Biggs is concerned the policy proposal is being perceived as the final draft.

“The policy that was published was our first plan, and we’re working with groups to refine that.” said Biggs. “We want this to be student driven. It’s only as good as the students who support it.”

Biggs noted that the SFUC mandate is aimed at creating awareness as well as policy. Students have long been inundated with facts about the potential health risks of tobacco use, but should also be aware of the money powerful tobacco companies may be paying to student institutions, she said.

Ashley Fraser, one of three main student representatives on the SFUC, stressed that the committee is forwarding other initiatives as well, including a province-wide Drop Dead Event in September.

“All we’re really trying to do is to get students to start asking these questions,” she said.

The SU needs to examine the effect on its business model, said Clayton, adding that tobacco sales alone account for roughly $80,000 annually in SU revenue. Clayton was unable to speculate on the revenue loss that would result from a ban on smoking in the SU run Den and Black Lounge.

“The way we see it is we can only go down,” he said. “We probably wouldn’t go bankrupt but we would have to really, really, restructure.”

Leave a comment