Fewer Albertans, more students smoking
by Zoey Duncan
Picture yourself in a lecture hall in the university, studiously writing down whatever comes out of your professor’s mouth while he gestures with his right hand, a thin trail of smoke tracing his movements before it curls towards the roof.
There was a time when, like the rest of the country, Mount Royal University was a place where you could light up a cigarette whenever and wherever you wanted; it was a time when classrooms were stocked with cheap tinfoil ashtrays and a classmate might have been just as likely to bum a smoke as borrow a pen.
“Isn’t that wild?” said Brian Fleming, vice-president of student affairs and campus life. “I mean, you can’t even fathom that now. “Today’s issues (in the classroom) might be having your cell phone and texting; were there issues around smoking or not?”
Health Canada released results from their annual tobacco-use monitoring survey at the end of September. The survey found that 18 per cent of Albertans are smoking, a number that is on par with the national average for the first time since 2004 when 20 per cent of Canadians were smoking. Health Canada touts a decrease in youth smoking with 26 per cent of Albertans aged 20-24 lighting up in 2009 versus a lung-aching 40 per cent in 1999.
But at MRU, the number of smokers on campus has increased. According to the biannual National College Health Assessment — sent out via email to 5,000 students every second January — nine per cent of MRU students were daily smokers in 2010, compared with 7.1 per cent in 2008.
Shermin Murji, tobacco reduction educator at the EnCana Wellness Centre, attributes the increase to the fact tobacco industries target the 18-24 age group. These young people are “re-placement smokers” for an industry that causes the death of a person every six minutes, Murji said. In the United States, she said, tobacco companies actually sponsor on- campus concerts where they give away cigarettes.
MRU has a strong tobacco- reduction strategy, including free one-on-one coaching for students who want to quit and health coverage for nicotine therapy. There is a proposal awaiting approval that would see MRU reject any grant or sponsorship from a tobacco company.
While she concedes that there will probably always be smok- ers on campus, Murji is thrilled at the success of the program, which saw a 39 per cent drop in daily smokers at MRU between 2006 (11.6 per cent) and 2008 (7.1 per cent). The designated smoking areas on campus were created in 2006 when a nursing student who was tired of walking through a “wall of smoke” to get inside the school lobbied to change a poli- cy that said little more than “no smoking indoors,” Fleming said.
Now, the school’s tobacco- use policy goes beyond the city bylaw that prohibits smoking within three metres of a door- way, to state that smoking is only allowed in designated areas, all of which are at least 10 metres from an entranceway.“I anticipate some day the campus will be smoke-free,” said Fleming. “That’ll be a hard decision to make.”