As of January 1, colleges and universities in Ontario will no longer be able to sell tobacco on their campuses as a result of a move by the provincial government to adopt stricter regulations on smoking. The province’s “Smoke-Free Ontario Act” will also make it illegal to smoke on bar and restaurant patios, playgrounds, public sports fields, and other recreational areas.
According to the Ontario government’s website, the new regulations are part of the province’s aim to reduce youth access to tobacco. Selling tobacco will be prohibited in buildings owned or leased by postsecondary institutions or student unions that are used for education programs, recreation, or residence services.
The National College Health Assessment survey results from spring 2013 found that 10.8% of UTM students had smoked a cigarette in the last 30 days.
Chad Jankowski, health education coordinator at the UTM Health and Counselling Centre, said that these results were consistent with the findings of both the Canada-wide reference group, which found that 11.6% of Canadian postsecondary students had smoked in the last 30 days, and the Ontario group, which found that 11% of students in the province had.
He added that the percentage of UTM students smoking tobacco using a water pipe—a hookah—in the last 30 days was 4.6%, which is also consistent with the provincial (4.1%) and national (4.2%) results.
Asked if there were places at UTM where tobacco is currently sold, Felicia Phan, UTM’s campus program coordinator for the Leave the Pack Behind program, said no.
Jankowski added that U of T’s Smoking Policy of 1995 already prohibits tobacco sales on campus. The policy states, “Cigarettes, tobacco, and other tobacco products will not be sold on premises occupied by the University of Toronto.”
However, tobacco may be obtained in other ways.
“There are ways to get not illegal tobacco but tobacco that’s been rolled on its own—not sold in community stores,” said Rovina Girn, a nurse at the HCC. “I haven’t really heard any of my patients, at least, tell me that they take part [in] that.”
Currently, smoking is not allowed on covered or partially covered patios in Ontario. With the new regulations, smoking will not be allowed on any bar or restaurant outdoor patios, with the exception of the uncovered patios by a branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.
Another nurse at the HCC believes there is no problem with persuading people not to smoke indoors, but says this new legislation could be taking away the rights of people who smoke, since it takes away almost every place where they can smoke.
“I wholeheartedly agree with taking it out of inside places, but outside, it’s not as clear of a picture,” she said.
In regards to how she thinks students will react to this legislation, she added, “We have difficulty getting them to go the 36 [feet] away from any door. So I’m really not sure how successful we will be keeping them from smoking outside at all.”
Girn said the impact of the legislation won’t be significant at UTM because the only patio the new law applies to is at the pub. She also thinks that the legislation will be more relevant to those under 18, not university students.
Phan held similar views.
“From what I’ve seen on campus, I do not think that this legislation will significantly impact UTM students,” said Phan, noting that smokers are seldom seen smoking on the Blind Duck patio or on the sports fields. “For young adults in general, I think this legislation will just further help protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke when they are sitting on off-campus patios, in sports fields, playgrounds, et cetera.”
Although Jankowski agreed that the legislation will not have a significant impact on students’ “day-to-day experiences” at UTM, he said that smoking is not as common on campus as students perceive it to be.
He noted that the NCHA found that while 76.6% of UTM students said that they had never smoked, the students polled thought that only 6.6% of their fellow students had never smoked.
Similarly, the survey found that UTM students think that only 16.5% of students have never tried shisha, whereas in fact 81.8% of UTM students have never tried it.
“These misperceptions about tobacco use on campus are ones that the Health and Counselling Centre, particularly our Leave the Pack Behind team, are trying to challenge,” said Jankowski. “We know that students can feel pressured to conform to what they perceive to be ‘normal’ behaviour on campus, so by raising awareness of the true norms on campus, we’re helping students to make healthier choices.”