King's considers going smoke-free

The actual timeline for any change in smoking legislation is undetermined, according to bursar Jim Fitzpatrick.

Laura Penny, a self-described “tidy little smoker”, was not enraged when she heard that King’s might be implementing anti-smoking legislation on campus.
Instead, she said she understood it. “The bourgeoisie hate smoking because the bourgeoisie operates under the fantasy that it is immortal: If it just eats enough artisanal kale, it will never die.”
No matter what the reason the bourgeoisie hate smoking, King’s campus could be smoke-free in as little as one year.
The actual timeline for any change in smoking legislation is undetermined, according to bursar Jim Fitzpatrick.
“It’s not going to be a decade; it’s not going to be half a decade,” he said. “It’s not going to be three months either, it’s not going to be three years. Sometime in 2014 I guess is about as good as I can get.”
Alex Doyle, director of facilities at King’s and one of the main people working on the possible smoking ban, has a slightly longer timeline in mind – somewhere around the two year mark.
However, he said the implementation would likely go in stages, starting with designated smoking areas and culminating in a campus-wide ban. This, he noted, is the moral and legal obligation of the university.
“When you look at the universities, universities as a whole, we’re governed by legal mandates and we actually have a legal responsibility to provide a safe environment for students and staff,” he said.
“As any smoking documentation will tell you, you can’t have that with smoking on campus.”
However, his support of the ban is not limited to the effects of the smoke itself. Referencing scribbles in a graph paper notebook, Doyle brought up water pollution caused by submerged cigarette butts, the 25 years cigarettes take to decompose and the toxins introduced into the soil.
He has already talked to Sustainability King’s about working together on the possible smoking ban.
“I firmly believe that King’s should lead the way in having that,” Doyle said, referring to the change in smoking legislation.
“We’re the ideal college to create a green environment, a green campus. But we can’t do that by having smoking on campus. We just can’t.”
Unfortunately, King’s is a little late to lead the way. Dalhousie University was one of the first universities in Canada to go smoke-free in 2003, while Acadia went tobacco-free in 2006 and Saint Mary’s finished its three year implementation this September.
“If we don’t do it voluntarily, I’m sure that at some point there will be some kind of government legislation that comes through mandating smoke-free campuses at all campuses,” professor and smoking ban advocate Stephen Snobelen
“We don’t want to be in a situation where we initiate a smoke-free campus because we’re compelled to it, it should be an informed, reasonable decision that the college makes.
“Clearly there are very good reasons for King’s and Dalhousie to have somewhat distinct cultures, complementary cultures,” Snobelen continued.
“But it just seemed to me and a few others that distinguishing ourselves by allowing smoking was probably not the right thing to emphasize.”
Snobelen said that King’s should have moved “in lock step” with Dalhousie’s smoking legislation. The disparity not only created policing problems for Dalhousie, he said, but also increased the number of smokers at King’s.
“You have people, staff mostly, from Dalhousie, who will actually walk over to the King’s campus, mostly behind the gym, and smoke on the King’s campus because they’re not allowed to smoke on the Dalhousie campus,” he said.
“So that’s kind of weird, because what that means is that there are people sort of visiting as kind of smoking tourists to King’s campus, so the number of smokers increases because we’ve created a vacuum and nature abhors a vacuum so the smokers come in.”
However, banning cigarettes from the campus is no guarantee that the smokers will abide by the rules.
“You’re going to have a situation where students either don’t know about the ban and keep smoking, or don’t care about the ban and know that there’s no enforcement policy and keep smoking,” Penny said.
The Dalhousie legislation is based on information sharing and an honour system, and lacks what Doyle called the “cigarette police”. This is what Doyle wants King’s to emulate.
A system with such little enforcement comes with its own difficulties, as Charles Crosby, the senior advisor for Dalhousie Communications and Marketing, knows too well.
“You can’t implement it and hope for the best, and kind of brush your hands off and say, ‘Oh, we’re done’, because with something like this, it’s still culturally embedded,” he said.
“You can’t simply do a thing and assume it’s done. You have to be continually vigilant about sharing information and making sure people know so there’s no excuse.”
This is not enough in Penny’s view.
“I’ve walked through the Dal campus smoking, no one’s ever reproached me or fined me or done anything, they didn’t even give me the stink eye,” she said.
“If a law has no teeth then that makes a mockery of the idea of the law, right. I mean, it makes people less observant of other laws if a law has no teeth. So, I guess what I’d say if I were giving input to the smoking ban committee is that it would probably work better if it was a smoking spot committee.”
Not only would having a designated smoking areas be easier to enforce, she said, but it would also support the intellectual culture that is unique to King’s.
“I think it would be a bummer to have no corners at all where someone can smoke, because I know I’ve done some of my best work standing outside, just conversing with people. This is what I mean when I say smoking is a social
vice, right; it’s not very fun to smoke all by your lonesome. That smoking tends to naturally lend itself to the sort of philosophical conversation that makes King’s a special place.”
People like Doyle and Snobelen disagree.
“Some people over the years have kind of celebrated this,” Snobelen said about the philosophical nature of smoking, “part of intellectual culture is sort of standing around, having a cigarette or even, as you sometimes see at King’s, a pipe, discussing the finer points of Heidegger or whatever. And that just seems to me to be bizarre. So if you’re not a smoker, you’re not really an intellectual?”
The rights of smokers are not limited to the pipe-and-Sartre culture of King’s, according to Penny, who said that a smoke-free campus would be “punitive to the janitors and cleaning staff, a lot of whom smoke, many of whom don’t get good breaks.
Snobelen recognizes arguments like this as well, but doesn’t appear to bend to their influence.
“Another argument is that it’s kind of condescending,” Snobelen said. “It’s saying that this is the way we want you to live, we don’t want you to be a smoker and that sort of thing. And you know, I think the response to that would be, ‘Yeah, that is part of it.”
According to Doyle, an important part of the smoking ban would be an alliance with Capital Health and Dalhousie Health Services to provide smokers with the aids they need to quit.
“We want to provide all the assistance required to introduce a cessation program for all students and staff, to provide any aids to help students and staff quit smoking, but it has to be a community effort. Everybody has to get on the same bandwagon and just say ‘we want to commit to this’, and I’m hoping that we can get community buy-in and commitment. It’s something that I don’t think is going to just be rammed down the throats of anybody, but it has to be a cooperative effort,” Doyle said.
“The last thing I want to see is pit the non-smokers against the smokers on campus. That’s the last thing we want to see. Anything that’s going to divide the campus we don’t want. It has to be a consultation with everybody.”
This consultation in particular has been going on with the senior administration team – Kim Kierans, Jim Fitzpatrick, Elizabeth Yeo, Adriane Abbott, and college president George Cooper.
“You talk about it, and then you do what any good administration does and you go out and you investigate,” vice-president Kim Kierans said.
However, this does not mean that any sort of decision has been reached on a possible smoking ban.
“We’re not a tobacco-free campus, there is no policy, there’s no change,” she said. “We’re beginning the discussion.”
This discussion of smoking at King’s has been brought up in meetings before, but Kierans said this is the first time there is a drive towards some kind of resolution.
“The new director of facilities (Alex Doyle) is the one that’s supporting the discussion and really taking a good hard look,” Kierans said.
“And looking for not just emotion, but he’s trying to find evidence in the debate, so that it’s not just ‘I like to smoke, therefore I should smoke;’ ‘I don’t like smoke, therefore there should be no smoking’.
“He’s trying to say ‘what evidence is there to support a status of keeping the policy the same way; what evidence is there to making a change; how will it affect our community,’ and that kind of thing. So he’s really trying hard, he’s doing homework that’s probably never been done before.”
In the midst of this evidence-gathering, Doyle said he wanted to start the process of consultation with the King’s community as soon as possible.
“I would like to see this consultation side start as soon as we could, just so that we could see some good feedback and good discussion going and where we’re at and how we might undertake this,” he said.
“That would be the first step, is to create some kind of a cross-section committee that would represent everybody and would start talking about it.”
“I think it’s just something, a project that the university can work on together to see where we can go with it. But there are many aspects of it. It’s not just to quit, it’s not to get rid of cigarette butts, it’s all encompassing.”

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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