By: Ileena Ke

Jan. 25 marked McMaster’s launch event of the new smoke-free policy. It took place in the McMaster University Student Centre, taking up the atrium with tables laden with free hot chocolate, marshmallows, whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

According to McMaster, the purpose of the smoke-free policy is meant to promote a healthier campus to fulfill its obligations to the Okanagan Charter, a charter meant to promote healthier living signed by multiple universities.

This policy disallows any form of an oral smoking device, such as tobacco products, cannabis use and electronic smoking devices. As for smudging, McMaster allows an exemption through request only. In this case, it is meant to protect McMaster from second-hand smoke. The policy will not be enforced immediately.

“For the first year, anyone found on campus will be given an information card that outlines the new designation and provides details on the supports available. Signs have been installed informing the community of the new tobacco and smoke-free campus,” said Gord Arbeau, McMaster’s director of communications.

“They have created this atmosphere where people who don’t do these things — their needs — are considered more important.”

Sarah Wahab
Vice president
CUPE 3906

The policy applies to anyone on McMaster premises. Community members are encouraged to approach those who are smoking and to inform them of the new policy.

“The tobacco and smoke-free campus designation is a natural next step that is aligned with [advancing wellbeing]… Ontario’s hospitals and many municipal parks and outdoor venues are already 100 percent tobacco and smoke-free and McMaster is pleased to take a leadership role,” Arbeau stated.

Sarah Wahab, vice president of CUPE 3906 and PhD candidate in the department of English and Cultural Studies, is not convinced.

Wahab states that the policy targets individuals, particularly those dealing with an addiction, by implying smokers are unhealthier and that they are unwanted on campus.

Wahab argues that the policy is discriminatory due to the how the policy generates an atmosphere where smokers feel targeted amongst the university population. She also stated that the act of forcing people off campus to smoke makes them more visible, which exposes them to assault.

“They have created this atmosphere where people who don’t do these things — their needs — are considered more important.” Wahab said. She believes that the division this policy has brought onto the community, dividing smokers and non-smokers, is dangerous for it labels a group’s presence as intolerable.

Wahab also argues this unfairly targets medical cannabis users. Wahab said that while the university has suggested other methods of taking cannabis, smoking is the more effective way of treatment. Wahab believes that the university does not have a right to tell someone when and how to take their medicine.

Wahab also argues that it is discriminatory to require permission to smudge on campus, and that Indigenous communities should be allowed to do so without the blessing of the university.

“I think [non-smokers] should… have some compassion for people who are still working through [quitting] if they’re choosing to. If they’re not, you also have to respect people’s decisions to do what they want with their bodies.” Wahab said. “If a policy like this goes ahead, I’m just curious to see what other things they can stop us from doing on campus.”

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