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McMaster University Quits Smoking

for 12hrs

by: Maxie Bai

The newest trend in anti-smoking legislation is coming to McMaster University on March 7 th , 2005 – but only for twelve hours. For twelve hours Leave the Pack Behind (LTPB), a campus tobacco awareness group, is asking all students, faculty and visitors to refrain from smoking, or to step off campus to smoke, as part of an awareness campaign scheduled for the day.

With only six members, McMaster’s LTPB team has been working steadily since last September to organize the Smoke-Free Day to promote health awareness and denormalize the use of tobacco, a habit that often begins during university and college years. Canadian anti-smoking campaigns have sought to denormalize smoking to fight the increasingly aggressive marketing campaigns by tobacco companies which routinely target 19-24 year-olds as their “youngest legal target” (Canadian Cancer Society).

LTPB has been sending out letters and calling community organizations since November 2004 and Hamilton and University communities seem to have embraced the event.

Representatives from local organizations, including Hamilton Public Health, the Canadian Cancer Society, Health Canada and Smoke-Free Physicians, will be presenting displays in the newly built University Student Centre alongside campus displays from the Health and Wellness Centre and LTPB.

Special entertainment includes the music of alumni Nick Armstrong, an energetic break dancing show by the Mac Urban Dancers and a surprise event by the high school volunteers of HCCAT. A diverse and wide group of campus supporters also volunteering for the event include the Kinesiology faculty’s spirit squad, the Blue Boners, the Society of Off-Campus Students (SOCS), Student Health Education Centre (SHEC) and many others.

Heather Crowe, a former waitress from Ottawa, will be the featured keynote speaker. Crowe, a non-smoker, set a legal precedent four years ago when she sued for and was awarded worker’s compensation after being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer after waitressing for 40 years in several restaurants in Ottawa which, until recently, allowed smoking.

Crowe’s story has become familiar to many Canadians when she was featured in a federal anti-smoking ad campaign in which she was quoted as saying; “I never smoked a day in my life. The air was blue where I worked.” An advocate for workers’ rights, Crowe is also a moving anti-smoking speaker and she hopes that her story will help others realize the real and complicated effects of smoking for themselves and others.

Other speakers of the event include McMaster University President Peter George and Shano Mohan, the President of McMaster’s Student Union. The pre-event faculty support has also been tremendous with over 300 members pledging their personal support. The pledge forms outline a promise to support the event by not smoking during the 12-hour ban and by promoting awareness of the day to others. LTPB plans on sending the pledge forms to George Smitherman, Ontario’s Health Minister. Marian Johnson , a member of McMaster’s LTPB team, is not surprised at the outpouring of community support for the 12-hour Smoke-Free Day. She said, “I’m not at all surprised at the positive response we’ve had. This is a current issue and people seem to really care. I, along with the rest of the staff, am thrilled and looking forward to the day.”

The full-ban on smoking has gained popularity in anti-smoking legislation in recent years and has become increasing visible on Canadian university and college campus of which McMaster’s 12-hour Smoke-free Day is symptomatic of. Although new to McMaster University, Dalhousie University (Halifax, NS), Lakehead University (Thunder Bay, ON) and the University of Calgary (Calgary, AB), have completely banned smoking on campus property. And many at McMaster hope the university will follow their example. Arti Kumar, a third-year student in Behavioural Neuroscience, fully supports a smoke-free Hamilton. “Smoking is a selfish way to endanger the health of others and our environment,” said Kumar.

Currently McMaster’s Smoking policy in the Workplace and Public Areas claims “to affirm McMaster University’s commitment to provide a smoke free and healthy environment for students, employees, and visitors.” The policy applies to all individuals on McMaster property, and prohibits smoking in any campus buildings. It also bans selling tobacco products for the explicit purpose of “discouraging the use of tobacco products.”

Hamilton’s smoking by-law is in place in large part because of tremendous public support. In surveys conducted in 1995 and 1999, and a municipal referendum held in 1997, Hamilton residents voted between 70 and 75 per cent in favour of adopting anti-smoking bylaws.

Students at McMaster seem to share the same sentiment. The informal poll by Leave the Pack Behind found that 61 per cent of smokers and 74 per cent of non-smokers at Mac agreed that the campus should become smoke-free. One must then wonder why so many smokers support a bylaw that would make their lives more difficult.

Chris (whose last name was withheld at her request), a Masters student at McMaster in the humanities department, links the support to a cultural acceptance that smoking is unhealthy. A regular smoker since high school, she believes that it is only “common courtesy” to support initiatives such as the bylaw: “If you choose to smoke, it doesn’t mean that others have to [be exposed].”

Similarly, of the students who begin smoking in university and college, studies have estimated that at least 70 per cent of student smokers want to quit, but are unable to or do not have the necessary resources. According to the Smoke Free Hamilton Coalition – a group formed to advocate for the municipal by-law–one of the primary motivations for a total ban on smoking is to help people quit without feeling they need to withdraw from regular social outings in places like bars and restaurants. However, so far there is no organized support for those who wish to continue smoking, or for those who face similar pressures of being excluded because they are smokers.

Representatives from the Smoke-Free Hamilton Coalition said they believe that a total ban on public smoking is the only way to “even the playing field for all business,” to “protect the community,” and to promote a smoke-free social environment for those attempting to quit. Ben Ferraro, an English student from Lakehead University and a regular smoker expressed a similar sentiment when interviewed by the Thunder Bay News Source. He maintained a positive outlook on the total smoking ban: “Oddly enough, I think this is going to help people quit,” said Ferraro. “Not a lot of us are going to want to walk off campus to have a cigarette for five minutes in 40 below weather.”

LTPB does caution that they do not wish to alienate nor demonize smokers. All event activities and displays are structured to raise awareness and support smokers, regardless of whether or not they wish to quit as well as support non-smokers and those who want resources or information on supporting the quit plan for a loved one. Andrew Mowbray , another LTPB team member, hopes that the event will unify the campus rather than divide it. “Everyone is invited to voluntarily take part in all the day’s fun activities, regardless of [their] smoking habits,” said Mowbray. After all the day’s slogan seems to say it all; “Our health, our campus, our community. Smoke-free Mac.”

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