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Vaping has become overwhelmingly popular on Canadian campuses in recent years

UBC expanding smoke- and vape-free areas, but no outright ban

Area around hospital now smoke-free with more restrictions to come

By Tanner McGrath , in City , on November 21, 2019

The University of British Columbia is adding new smoke- and vape-free areas on its Vancouver campus. A large area around the hospital is now designated smoke- and vape-free and soon many outdoor athletics fields will be too.

However, UBC administration will not consider making the entire Vancouver campus smoke- and vape-free at this time.

“We needed to have a UBC-specific solution,” said the university’s director for UBC Campus and Community Planning, Grant Miller.

Miller confirmed that the university will begin work on the new smoke- and vape-free areas next year. 

Miller said the exact boundaries have yet to be agreed upon, but that they will most likely include the athletics fields south of the Doug Mitchell Stadium. 

The newest smoke- and vape-free zone is in the “health precinct,” the area immediately surrounding the UBC Hospital, encompassing about 20 buildings. That policy went into effect Sept. 20.

UBC isn’t making the entire campus smoke-free, instead opting to expand areas like this one (UBC Campus and Community Planning)

UBC’s last move on campus smoking was in 1991, when the university prohibited smoking inside buildings and within eight metres of any doors, open windows and air intakes, five years after the City of Vancouver had created a policy like that. The province banned smoking in all public spaces and workplaces as of March 2008.

UBC administration had discussed its policies on smoke-free areas on the campus in recent years, but  Miller said that the legalization of recreational cannabis, about a year ago, provided the opportunity to revisit policies for both smoking and vaping on campus. 

“It was an opportunity to move forward the conversation about smoking in public on campus,” Miller said.

This has become an important issue for Canadian universities in recent years. The Canadian Cancer Society, in a 2018 report, said there are at least 65 Canadian universities that have gone entirely smoke-free, up from seven in 2009.

Joan Bottorff, a professor in the School of Nursing on the UBC Okanagan campus, co-ordinates the monitoring of smoking and vaping at UBC-O. She said her proposal, following the legalization of recreational cannabis, to make UBC entirely smoke-free was initially not well received by administration.

“The first comment I got back was, ‘Oh, well, we could never do that, that’s just the little universities that are doing that, and we are too big,’” Bottorff said.

However, Bottorff said she tried to emphasize the growing trend among universities toward going smoke-free.

“Continuing to permit smoking anywhere on campus is at odds with UBC’s objective of becoming a model campus of well-being,” she said.

Miller said administration acknowledged this but remained adamant that UBC’s Vancouver campus was too large to consider a blanket smoke-free policy. The university’s endowment lands, which cover the whole western tip of Vancouver, total 400 hectares.

“In the spirit of the move to smoke-free campuses, we needed to adapt that to the size and scale and issues that we deal at UBC,” he said.

UBC administration is attempting to make students aware of the newly designated areas through signage

Students at the Vancouver campus say UBC’s approach seems hazy.

Zac McEachern, a fourth-year film student who vapes regularly, is skeptical about any kind of ban.

“It’s just totally unenforceable,” McEachern said. “UBC is huge. There’s just so much space where you can do it and people aren’t going to catch you.”

But when it comes to the gradual implementation of these zones, McEachern was slightly more optimistic.

“I suppose doing it in waves, starting with certain designated areas, is maybe smarter than outright banning it,” he said. “But it just feels like people are always going to find a place to smoke.”

Lise Van Amerom, a first-year medical student, supports smoke- and vape-free areas but is uncertain why UBC is taking the cautious approach.

“It seems strange to implement these policies slowly,” she said. “If that’s the direction UBC is heading, it seems like they should implement all at once.” 

It is unclear whether imposing the new prohibited areas will drastically reduce the amount of smoking and vaping on campus, but Bottorff noted that this is a way to support students dealing with an addiction.

“I think that [the areas] need to be co-ordinated with very strong efforts to also support smoking cessation and support people in managing their cravings while they are on campus,” she said.