Algonquin students' union opposes smoke-free policy that takes effect January 1

Joanne Schnurr, CTV Ottawa

Algonquin's student union is butting heads over the college's smoking ban.

Algonquin College will be completely smoke-free as of January 1st.  But the students' association says even non-smokers don't agree with that plan. And so, it is trying to get the college to reverse its smoking ban, going against a wave almost that is washing across campuses everywhere.

It's a quick smoke on a chilly day for Christian Dunkley, far away from the doors of Algonquin College.

“It's ridiculous,” he says, as he lights up a smoke on the sidewalk furthest away from the campus, “because you shouldn't have to be forced to move over here, especially in these temperatures.”

The college will go completely smoke-free January 1st but even now, security is enforcing the temporary ban which went into effect two days before cannabis was legalized.

“I was smoking right there,” Dunkley says, pointing towards a sidewalk still on college property, “and I was told to go to the Home Depot right over there in College Square if I wanted to keep doing it. I was compliant because I didn't want trouble because they were threatening to kick me out of the residence building if I continued it.”

Students have been told to smoke completely off campus, on city sidewalks or even, some of them say, across the street at College Square. It poses a problem for people getting to class on time and for some, for their security at night.

“For my 9 p.m. classes, says smoker Michele Nelligan, “I won't be able to quickly run out because being a small woman, I won’t' feel safe to leave the school to have a cigarette and then come back.”

Now smokers, clearly in the minority here, have an ally in the students' association which has asked Algonquin College to reverse its smoking ban.

Deijanelle Simon is the President of the Students' Association, “It's not right to push those who are addicted to smoking,” she says, “because smoking is an addiction and we need to respect those that have addictions and treat them with the dignity they deserve and not just say you're not allowed here on campus.”

The students' union wants to keep designated smoking areas and believes, through consultations with students, that it has the backing of the majority of students on this, students like non-smoker David Elliott.

“I don't think it's a big deal to have smoking outside (on the grounds) of the campus,” he says, “and I'm afraid they're going to spend too much on security to try to enforce it.”

But Algonquin College is standing firm on the issue and says polling it did showed that 51% of the students supported a smoke-free campus.

“Our motivation and goal was to be smoke free,” says Algonquin College president Cheryl Jensen, “We think that's part of our healthy living initiative at the college and providing at every opportunity for a healthy lifestyle for both our students and our staff. So, yeah, we'll be going ahead with the smoke free policy.”

And for smokers like Fathia Koshen, that decision may just force her hand.

“It makes you want to stop actually,” she says, as she smokes on a cigarette outside the building, “to have to leave the building just to smoke, sometimes it's just not worth it.”

The college isn't sure what it will do with students who are caught smoking, likely a fine of some sort.  They admit that enforcing that will be the challenge.  The college is holding an information session for students Friday afternoon on this topic from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Indigenous Learning Commons.