Clearing smokescreens

By Raquel Mann

University of Calgary students should breathe easier, according to the mission of a new committee.

The Tobacco Reduction Task Force is working hard to revise university tobacco use policies and confront campus tobacco use issues. The committee budded in December 2001 in response to a growing concern from students and the general public to preserve air quality in university buildings and outside entrances.

"I think this is long overdue," said committee chair Shelly Kayfish. "We’re seeing a general trend within the university community that people want us to do something about the current status of tobacco use on campus."

Last year, the Calgary Health Region and the University Health Sciences Centre partnered to promote a no-smoking campaign in their facilities. Recently they have approached the TRTF to encourage the rest of the campus to follow more stringent tobacco regulations. New city bylaws restricting smoking have also provoked the committee to take measures towards improving the standing policies.

"There is the feeling that if the city and the CHR are taking more steps with tobacco regulation, that the university should also be proactive as well and start moving forward instead of being left in the dark, in the stone-age," said Students’ Union Vice-President Operations and Finance and TRTF Marketing sub-committee member Natasha Dhillon.

The CHR approach states that the campus should be a smoke-free property. However, the TRTF is taking into consideration both the benefits and downfalls of having stricter regulations.

"We object to this approach because, for instance, if people have to leave campus to smoke, it creates safety and security issues," said Kayfish. "We are weighing in all the risks."

The first step the committee has taken is reviewing old university policies, reassessing new issues and redrafting the policies. One major problem is second-hand smoke outside doorways and air-handling units permeating the interior of buildings. The ventilation in most buildings is not equipped to handle the infiltration and redistributes the smoke inside. Committee plans include marking no-smoking zones of 15 feet from entranceways and air handling units with blue lines and non-smoking symbols.

"The psychology behind this idea is that people will avoid smoking in an area if they’re standing on painted no-smoking symbols, whereas if there’s a sign on the wall, people are more likely to ignore it," explained Kayfish.

The TRTF also acknowledges concerns of the smoking community in response to these measures, such as smoking outdoors in the winter and confining tobacco users to a small space, creating a larger intake of second-hand smoke.

Representatives of the TRTF were recruited from different sectors of the campus community such as Campus Infrastructure, Risk Management, Human Resources, Students’ Union, Campus Security, Ancillary Services, Safety Services, and Environmental Design. Members were divided into five sub-committees, each assigned with specific tasks. There are both smoking and non-smoking members on the task force.

"We’re really trying to take a comprehensive approach," explained Kayfish. "By having a diverse team we can be objective about all the issues surrounding both smokers and non-smokers."

However, the new measures provoked mixed emotions from the general student body.

"It’s stupid because if you’re outside, it doesn’t really matter because you’re outside," said fourth-year Bio-Sci student Lidia Festa. "Having a specific location won’t do anything but create a hassle for those who do smoke."

Others hold a different view on the situation.

"I think it’s fine," said a research staff employee who wished to remain anonymous. "People who walk out of the doors shouldn’t have our smoke in their faces. As a smoker, it’s important to be mindful of other people, especially because not that many people do smoke."

Food Services General Manager and Senior Administrator of Resi-dence George Thomson joined the committee in January and in 2001 was involved in transforming residence buildings into non-smoking facilities. The change was implemented because the majority of residents were not tobacco users and wanted to improve health standards and air quality.

"On the most part it’s been successful," said Thompson. "Smoking is becoming more and more socially unacceptable and the push came from the students."

Another example of smoking reduction on campus is the fact that the new Ballroom has been designated a non-smoking facility. SU VP Events Chris Kerr explained there has been very little, if any negative student response, nor any reduction in ticket sales.

"People aren’t going to miss out on a concert just because they can’t smoke in the venue," he said. "Considering that we hold all ages shows and that there’s a range of people attending from young kids to senior citizens, you have a responsibility to their health."

There are cleanliness issues and cost maintenance benefits which also play roles in these tobacco reduction regulations, however it is concern for the well-being of the entire general public that serves as the main basis for these movements, as is the case with the strides being taken by the TRTF.

"I can’t emphasize this enough, we’re fair and this does benefit all in some shape, form or fashion," said Kayfish.

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