Up in smoke

When I was a young kid, my father told me that when he started smoking he and his friends always said they would quit once the price of a pack of cigarettes went over a dollar.

Well, the price went over a dollar, but my Dad, his friends and a lot of other smokers never quit. They continued to smoke, and as they got older the prices got higher, and as this happened nothing changed — actually one of the few things that did change was the colour of thousands and thousands of lungs.

It makes sense that young people of past generations were smoking like crazed circus monkeys considering people thought smoking was good for you. And they had good reason to think this.

Commercials flashing across TV screens showed images of doctors smoking cigarettes, while NBC announcer Michael Roy could be heard saying, “What brand do you smoke, Doctor?” followed by, “‘Time-out’ for many men of medicine usually means just long enough time to enjoy a cigarette.” With this in mind, why wouldn’t people want to smoke?

No more TV commercials featuring doctors taking long drags of cigarettes while a nurse hands them a file. The only thing left in its place are the facts and statistics displaying how many people have died from smoking cigarettes and how smoking will give you problems in the future, like, for instance, erectile difficulties. But why has the perception of smoking changed so much?

A bit of the change must have come from the death of Heather Crowe. Crowe, who passed away in 2006, was a waitress diagnosed with smoking-induced lung cancer in 2002 — but she never smoked.

According to a CTV article published in 2006, Crowe “was the first person to win a claim filed with the Ontario Workers Safety and Insurance Board for full compensation for lung cancer caused by occupational exposure to cigarette smoke.”

Between 2003 and 2006, Canadian regulations were put in place that prohibited smoking indoors in public places, and in some cases smoking has been prohibited at public outdoor locations. For example, in Nova Scotia 480 outdoor venues are now smoke-free.

But, one place where people can still smoke outside is the Canadian university campus, a place where smokers can not only smoke all they want, but can also purchase cigarettes at will from student union-run convenience stores.

According to University of Manitoba Students’ Union president, Sid Rashid, the issue of smoking on campus at U of M is not an ethical one.

“I don’t think it’s an issue of ethical or non-ethical,” said Rashid. “The product [is] not illegal, we’re not forcing it on students. It’s a choice just like beer at a vendor. We don’t promote it.” He continued, saying that both UMSU businesses that carry cigarettes follow the strict laws put in place by the provincial government.

“We follow all of the applicable laws in regards to displaying it. We don’t sell to anyone under the age of 18 right now [and] we sell it at GPA’s and IQ’s and we haven’t seen any complaints,” Rashid said.

“If [complaints] were to start coming in, I’m sure the business managers would reconsider the products we sell on our shelves,” he continued. Rashid also said UMSU does not campaign against smoking as much as other problems, as it’s not a subject that brings in funding from the provincial government.

One university that is taking action to make their campus smoke-free is Mount Royal University, in Calgary. MRU has recently introduced a new campus program that is dedicated to helping students give up cigarettes.

“The program, titled ‘Tobacco Free @ MRU,’ is a tobacco-reduction initiative based in the EnCana Wellness Centre at Mount Royal University,” said Jennifer Hogan, tobacco reduction educator at MRU. “The primary goals of this project are preventing students and employees from initiating tobacco use [and] supporting those who want to quit,” she continued. Other aspects of the program include making sure that those who don’t smoke have less of a chance of coming in contact with second hand smoke.

Hogan continued, saying another goal of the project is to “limit the exposure to second-hand smoke on campus, and to raise the awareness of tobacco related issues at Mount Royal.”

There are a lot of reasons why people smoke; some say it relaxes them, others say it makes them look sophisticated and other people are straight hooked, not having any reason behind smoking, except to feed bittersweet addiction.

I asked human rights lawyer, Paul Hesse, whether or not telling people they cannot smoke is a violation of their Human Rights.

“I’m not aware of any law suggesting smoking is a human right. It’s certainly not a protected ground under the Human Rights Code. On the other hand, if someone could argue that they have a disability, [ . . . ] they might at least be able to argue a case, [but] I wouldn’t expect it to succeed,” he replied.

If being hooked on smoking is an addiction, simply telling these addicts to “go smoke outside,” without offering a suggestion for help in the form of counseling or rehab could be committing a kind of discrimination.

This made me wonder. Is being a smoker a disability? Smoking is disabling in that it causes a number of diseases, and hell, Health Canada says that there are over 4000 chemicals released into your body when a cigarette is burned.

It might be nice to hear comments from a doctor or expert like those portrayed in the old cigarette commercials, puffing away happily — one who could ask me after doing a long and tedious surgery for “a light.” But those doctors are hard to come by.

Dr. Andrea King, director of the Clinical Addictions Research Laboratory at the University of Chicago’s department of psychiatry, said that even though there are reasons behind smoking, all of them fall short of good reasons.

“There are various reasons [given for smoking], ranging from stress reduction to drinking and smoking going together, [if] others were smoking, [and] for weight control,” said King.

She continued, “It can be hard to accurately get such information [about reasons for starting smoking] from adult smokers, as most started [young], and so recall bias may be an issue. Suffice it to say there are various reasons, but none of them are good reasons.”

When I asked King whether or not smoking could be considered a disability, she told me flat out, “No.”

“There is nothing beneficial about smoking, but much to lose in terms of one’s health and finances and [the] ability to cope with everyday stress and pressure.”

“Every smoker out there is encouraged to quit smoking and to talk with their doctor about evidence-based treatments to help them do it,” King continued.

I also asked King about whether or not universities should be selling cigarettes, and she replied, “That is up to the individual institution. If the students and faculty do not want them sold and there is community support, then of course there should be rules banning their sale.”

She was right. Why shouldn’t universities be the ones deciding whether or not to sell cigarettes on campus? We’re in university and, as adults, we should be allowed to do as we please when it comes to our bodies, even if it’s causing us harm; it’s legal.

Dave Molenhuis, CFS treasurer, why CFS hasn’t been targeting smoking as hard as other campus issues. He said that there has never been a “hesitation about addressing [smoking], but at the moment a motion has not been served on that issue.”

“But there are only a few places where there is actually this issue of student-run convenience stores that sell cigarettes. There is a number of universities where it’s the administration-run space that sells cigarettes on campus,” said Molenhuis.

He continued to explain that some universities actually held a referendum to find out democratically if cigarettes should be sold in student run convenience stores. In one case, at the University of Ottawa, a referendum was passed and the selling of tobacco products has been banned from student-run stores.

A vote to ban the smoke — crazy.

According to Student Federation of the University of Ottawa’s (SFUO) president, Seamus Wolfe, “The SFUO, through the Health Services Office, have long had informational campaigns about the harms of smoking and strategies to quit.

“At the beginning of first semester last year, a group of students decided to try to ban smoking on campus. They attempted to do this by collecting signatures for a ‘Smoke-free Campus’ petition that would trigger a referendum. Once they got the required 1,500 signatures the SFUO added their two questions as referenda to the general elections in February, 2009.”

According to Wolfe, the questions asked students to vote whether or not “to remove tobacco products from the SFUO-run convenience store and to attempt to ban smoking on campus. This referendum passed with an approximate two-thirds majority.”

He continued, “We then removed all tobacco products from the Pivik — our convenience store — and began conversations with the university administration on the feasibility of banning smoking on campus.”

Being a downtown campus, the change had little effect on smokers as they still had access to a number of nearby stores that sell cigarettes, but he also said that because of a lack of interest from the university’s administration, smoking is permitted almost everywhere outdoors on campus.

Interestingly enough, Wolfe mentioned that the student-run convenience store at the U of O lost $30,000 this year after they stopped selling cigarettes.

Here, at our university, cigarettes could be pulled off the shelves at our union-run convenience store if students raise their voices loud enough, just like at the University of Ottawa. UMSU, like a lot of the other CFS members I’m sure, has focused mainly on campaigns and causes that will bring in more money from the government for education.

Now, I’m not saying that funding for education is a bad thing, but UMSU could do more to try to ensure the health of their members, even if it doesn’t mean more money from the provincial government.