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McMaster’s plan to ban smoking on campus will be a drag: Teitel

It’s easy to imagine a campus culture where cigarette smoking isn’t the only unhealthy habit on the chopping block. What about eating processed foods? Drinking alcohol? Binge watching TV?

McMaster announced it will attempt to snuff out smoking on campus once and for all in the new year.

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McMaster announced it will attempt to snuff out smoking on campus once and for all in the new year.

There is nothing more collegiate than taking up smoking. When I entered university in the late 2000s this was the first thing I observed on campus among my teenage peers, all of us on our own for the first time in a leafy quadrangle, pretending to be adults. Suddenly we claimed to require a cup of coffee and a cigarette every morning in order to function even though, mysteriously, only a month prior, we required neither (a cup of O.J. and a slice of toast seemed to suffice).

This caffeine/nicotine ritual took place, conveniently, not in some designated smoking section, but always in the quad, so that others could behold our new-found adult sophistication (otherwise, what was the point?).

But this was a long time ago where campus life is concerned, before safe spaces regularly made the national news, before it was customary for university administrations to talk passionately about the importance of “health and wellness” on campus (health and wellness: I still for the life of me can’t figure out the difference between the two).

If you’re a smoker in today’s campus climate, at McMaster University in Hamilton, where healthy living is central to that institution’s philosophy, you can say farewell to your morning ritual of a coffee and cigarette in the quad.

Come Jan. 1, 2018, you will have to find another, less toxic, means of looking cool. This week, McMaster announced in an official statement it will attempt to snuff out smoking on campus once and for all in the new year— effectively establishing itself as “Ontario’s first 100% tobacco and smoke-free campus.”

According to a CBC story, the school’s smoke-free policy doesn’t just apply to campus grounds — it applies to cars parked on campus too. Under the new rule, smokers won’t even be permitted to take refuge in their vehicles in cold temperatures; they will have to drive off campus to light up.

Why is this so? In the words of the school’s president and vice-chancellor, Patrick Deane, in a statement made by the university this week, “McMaster is globally recognized for its commitment to innovation and advancing health and societal well-being through our research, teaching and community service. A tobacco and smoke-free campus is the next important step towards fulfilling our responsibilities as educators, health-care professionals and to the communities we serve.”

It’s also an ingenious method for preventing young people from taking up smoking. For a lot of new smokers who aren’t longtime addicts, i.e. “social smokers” (those who smoke when drunk at a party or surrounded by friends) tobacco loses its appeal away from a crowd, absent social cachet.

However, those who choose to brave the cold to have a smoke in the quad next January shouldn’t worry about strict punitive measures, at least not yet. According to Michelle Donovan, a media rep for McMaster, the school isn’t interested in punishing students for smoking at this juncture. “The emphasis over the course of the first year,” Donovan wrote to the Star in an email, “will be on education and communication. We recognize that this is a time of change and so enforcement will be phased in. The goal here isn’t to penalize and we are still finalizing our enforcement protocols.”

So no, McMaster security won’t be walking around confiscating packs of cigarettes come January or handing out steep fines. But with the best of intentions, the school is doing something a little bit insidious in its war on the dart.

By forcing smokers to light up off campus in the name of “health and societal well-being” the university is showing favouritism to students and faculty members who make healthy choices. This sounds like a lovely idea in theory. And I know: nobody has much sympathy for cigarette smokers in the year 2017. “They are a drain on health care! They smell! They litter!” Etc., etc.

But take McMaster’s policy to its logical conclusion and it’s easy to imagine a campus culture where cigarette smoking isn’t the only unhealthy habit on the chopping block.

What about eating processed foods? Drinking alcohol? Binge watching TV? (The latter habit, one recent study suggests, may even eventually kill you!) If a school is so concerned with the health of its student body should it not prohibit these vices too?

The recent fixation with health and wellness on university campuses is in a sense an offshoot of safe space culture one could call safe body culture. Its ethos being that not only should individuals in an institution be able to walk around without encountering ideas that may disturb their mental health, they should be equally protected from anything that might disturb their physical health — no matter how insignificant that threat may be.

Take smoking on campus: We’re not talking about a restaurant patio, where in most cases, a smoker’s lit cigarette can interfere with the enjoyment and the health of the non-smoking patrons around him. We’re talking rather about wide-open spaces and fields, where it’s very easy to avoid the occasional plume of cigarette smoke. We’re talking, in other words, about the great outdoors.

If you don’t like smelling tobacco smoke when you’re out and about, I have a very simple solution to your problem that doesn’t involve the prohibition of anything or anyone: plug your nose and walk away.

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