Tobacco ban demanded
Students want an end to smoking and cigarette sales on campus
EDMONTON - A group of anti-smoking students from Grant MacEwan College and the University of Alberta are gearing up to get tobacco sales banned on campus, oust tobacco-funded research and force smokers to light up only off campus.
Already, 800 U of A students have signed a petition saying they want students to vote on whether or not the sale of cigarettes and chewing tobacco should be banned from U of A campus businesses.
If five per cent (about 1,800 students) sign on, the question will be put on the ballot during March's student elections and the debate will begin.
"Students' Union should support a healthy atmosphere," said Shereen Kangarloo, who leads the tobacco-free team at the U of A. She wants smoking banned gradually, with sales banned the first year and smoking limited to outside of student residences in the second year to give students leeway to get used to a complete smoke-free campus by Year 3.
"It's a small percentage of students who smoke," Kangarloo said. "Why should the students' union support the smokers instead of the (approximately) 85 per cent who don't smoke?"
Kangarloo said convenience stores, like the SUBmart run by the U of A students' union on campus, shouldn't be allowed to advertise with "powerwalls" -- wall units that display colourful packs of cigarette cartons behind the till.
Even the counter at SUBmart is covered with cigarillo displays, chewing tobacco, cigarette boxes and Bic lighters.
"It entices people to purchase," Kangarloo said.
"It's a huge billboard and makes cigarettes seem part of normal living."
Les Hagan, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, said, "Young adults aren't happy about it.
"They see these messages as manipulative and predatory marketing strategies."
This past fall, the U of A approved a $1.5-million research grant from a tobacco company -- makers of Copenhagen, Skoal and other brands of chewing tobacco -- for a public health researcher who champions smokeless tobacco as a safe alternative to smoking. Kangarloo wants the U of A to adopt a policy prohibiting grants from the tobacco industry.
"Tobacco has no part in institutions of higher learning," Hagan said.
"Both the students' union and the University of Alberta are culpable. There is no justification for taking any blood money from the tobacco industry."
Jason Tobias, vice-president of operations and finance for the U of A students' union, said he thinks a debate about tobacco sales on campus is worth having but believes the general consensus is that non-smokers shouldn't exert moral guardianship over the entire campus.
"In talking with (student) councillors and students, people feel it's right we offer students a choice," Tobias said.
He noted that a similar motion to ban tobacco sales last June died when nobody seconded it during a meeting."
Tobias can see both sides, but said if tobacco sales were banned the students' union would lose as much as $50,000 from sales at SUBmart -- $36,000 in net revenue from tobacco sales and the rest from smokers' non-tobacco purchases.
"If we can't sell those smokes anymore, we would lose $50,000," Tobias said.
"It's not going to be a death blow, but $30,000 is about one staff person. The revenue from those products do go into student services, which go to the betterment of an undergrad's life on campus," Tobias said.
Greg Semenchuk, 32, wouldn't mind if he couldn't buy cigarettes on campus, but said he has mixed feelings about a bylaw that wouldn't allow him to smoke outdoors on campus.
"We're addicted, for goodness sake," said Semenchuk, who has been a smoker for 16 years and was puffing on a cigarette outside the students' union building. "I smoke and I enjoy it. So you maybe have to walk through a whiff of smoke. I think we are being demonized a little bit. Of all the evils in the world, it's a little overdone."
Kunal Sharma, 24, said he would be willing to smoke elsewhere, albeit somewhat reluctantly. "It's commendable," he said of the non-smoking coalition at the U of A. "It is my right, but when you're blowing smoke on somebody's face, it is pretty annoying."
Andrea Lowe, a second-year education student at Grant MacEwan, said she chokes when she walks though a smoke cloud outside the college's doors.
MacEwan already has a policy banning tobacco sales in its stores, but Lowe wants the policy strengthened and wants to push outdoor smokers away from the buildings onto public sidewalks. She has asked the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada to find alternate funding for a $2,500 grant for disabled students sponsored by Imperial Tobacco.
MacEwan's facilities and occupational health departments are reviewing Lowe's recommendations and will come up with their own this spring, if they believe the college's smoking policies need to be updated, said spokesperson Gordon Turtle.