An Ontario university is the latest to join the short list of Canada's smoke-free post-secondary campuses, a move that anti-smoking advocates hope will help the country's educational facilities catch up with their American counterparts.
Hamilton's McMaster University announced that all tobacco and oral smoking products would be banned effective Jan. 1, 2018. The ban includes recreational and medicinal marijuana smoking, though the university said people who need it for therapeutic purposes can consume it through edible products or other means.
McMaster becomes at least the 14th Canadian college or university to make its campuses 100 per cent smoke-free. The school's move will also include an active effort to help smokers quit by directing them to cessation programs.
Dean of students Sean Van Koughnett said the new approach was necessary in order to promote health across the university community, adding it's part of a broader social shift away from public smoking.
"I wasn't around here when there was smoking in offices, and then that was moved," Van Koughnett said in a telephone interview. "Then there was smoking in lounges and hallways and indoors, and that was a change. So I think this is just the next evolution of how we deal with smoking."
The new rules, which Van Koughnett said were developed with student and staff input, pertain not only to buildings on McMaster's various properties but to private vehicles parked on university grounds.
Smoking in those vehicles is prohibited, a move Van Koughnett said is intended to protect people from the health impacts of second-hand smoke.
The school might grant exemptions upon request, he said, particularly for events with significance to campus cultural groups.
"We want to allow events with religious or cultural traditions to take place," he said, citing Indigenous smudging ceremonies as a potential example.
McMaster becomes the first post-secondary institution in Ontario to make its campus entirely smoke-free, according to research from the Canadian Cancer Society.
Senior policy analyst Rob Cunningham said that while many schools have implemented policies restricting where tobacco or oral smoking devices like pipes can be used, only 13 have gone as far as a campus-wide ban.
Of those, most are concentrated on the East Coast. Dalhousie University in Halifax was among the first to take the step in 2003. It has since been joined by Memorial University, with several campuses across Newfoundland and Labrador, Acadia University of Wolfville, N.S., the University of Winnipeg and Yukon College in the territorial capital.
Yukon is, in fact, the only province or territory requiring campuses to be smoke-free, Cunningham said.
Legislation set to take effect in November will see Quebec require all its post-secondary schools to at least implement a smoking policy, he added, noting that not all schools will be required to be smoke-free.
Cunningham praised McMaster for its move and said he expects more campuses to follow suit, particularly as new federal rules get set to take effect.
"I do expect that with the legalization of cannabis that the number of 100 per cent smoke-free campuses is going to accelerate," he said."That is a new consideration for institutions ... and I could well see that that could be a trigger for institutions to relook at their policies."
Cunningham said research has shown that the number of smokers decreases alongside the number of places where smoking is permitted. He said he hopes limiting smoking on campus will help dissuade younger Canadians from either taking up or continuing with the habit.
Van Koughnett said the greater availability of campus programs and resources to help people quit will be a key part of the smoke-free strategy. Those will start to roll out in September, four months before the policy goes into effect.
Van Koughnett also said people caught violating the policy will be directed towards those resources, adding enforcement efforts will ramp up over time.
Written by: Michelle McQuigge