• Daniel Boutilier

Growing Pains for CBU’s New Smoke-Free Policy

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

Sydney, N.S. Daniel Boutilier


As the NSLC struggles to keep up with demand for newly legalized cannabis products, Cape Breton University faces some growing pains of their own.


Sara Vaughan is a second-year nursing student at CBU and a mother of two – she’s also the voice behind a new petition circulating around campus and online. When Sara first heard about CBU’s new smoke-free campus policy in early October, she didn’t pay it much attention, but when she took a closer look at the designated areas which had been selected, she began to grow concerned. “Most of the time I park in the parking lot next to the library … it’s just easier for me if I have to go to the library, drop my son off [at daycare], and a lot of our classes are upstairs in the Campus Centre or Nursing Wing anyway, so it’s all right there.” Worried about dropping her son off where he might be exposed to cigarette and cannabis smoke, Sara decided to bring her concerns forward. After reaching out to her Dean, who directed her to Human Resources, Sara was answered the next day by John Mayich, the Director of Student Affairs. While Mr. Mayich was appreciative of Sara’s feedback, and indicated that the school would be taking into account constructive comments such as hers, he suggested that at the present time using another lot – such as the one behind Sullivan Field House, with a comparable walk to some areas and itself a non-smoking zone – would be her best recourse at the present time. For Sara, though, time is at a premium and the lot across from the library, the one she’s always used, is the best one available. “I have to drop my daughter off at elementary school by 8, because they’re not really allowed to go any earlier than that, have to drive in [to CBU], drop my son off at daycare and get to class by 8:30.”


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Sara Vaughan holding her petition just below a poster expalining CBU’s new Smoke-Free Policy.


When asked whether Sara had experienced any problems just days into the new Smoke-Free Policy, she described dropping her son off just last week. “I took my son out of the car, and both cars – on either side of me – were smoking out of their cars. It’s the kind of weather now where it’s dense, the smoke is staying around, so it’s not even that it’s just getting blown away – it’s all right there … I don’t think it’s planned out very well.” She wondered whether the school might designate a smaller area towards the back of the parking lot, and perhaps build some kind of shelter against the worst of the wind, rain, and snow, but was told that such a structure would constitute a fire hazard besides being something of an eyesore on campus. She also wondered if they might add additional areas across campus, similar to the way that the Halifax Regional Municipality is adding designated smoking areas in the wake of public backlash to their new anti-smoking policies. She points out that while smoking was always permissible in these parking lots people tended to smoke elsewhere, so running into problems while dropping her son off would have been a rare occurrence.


When I point out that smaller designated areas mean closer contact between tobacco and cannabis smokers, and that many tobacco smokers prefer not to be around cannabis smoke and vice versa, Sara suggests that designating a small area for each may be an option. She again brings up the one-sided geography of the designated areas. “The parking lots that are designated for smoking are now on the same side of campus – almost right beside each other. So people that smoke [who study] in the Business Building, are not going to walk all the way across campus to smoke … nobody has time to do that in-between classes.” That being said, Sara doesn’t smoke herself, and says she is “hoping in the future CBU is going to move toward a completely smoke-free campus, but I also know that that’s not something that can just happen.” We discuss whether a designated row of parking for smokers, toward the back of the lot, might be an option – but with the rate at which parking fills up the logistics don’t check out (see previous coverage of that issue here).


While exposure to second-hand smoke for a second here or there may be a minor concern to young adults, CBU has many children and youth who visit campus for a variety of programs. Additionally, Sara tells us that at least three members of the Nursing Department alone have such severe allergies to cigarette smoke that they are required to carry epi-pens. She also mentions that with the majority of people on campus under the age of twenty-five, and studies linking cannabis use to detrimental changes in the brain with this population, that the effects of inhalation may be more serious than the already well-understood hazards of tobacco. “I pay enough money to be here, I pay $32.00 a day for my son to be here, I don’t think that I should have to park somewhere else, I think I should be able to park where I want and be able to get out and not worry about my son breathing in tobacco or marijuana … at 30 lbs. how much would you really have to breathe in before it starts affecting him?”


When I asked if Sara had seen anyone breaking the new Smoke-Free Policy, she admitted that she had but did not report them at the time. “The people [smoking] were in the Nursing program. I don’t want to say anything and then, you know, you’re going to be working with these people, or you’re going to see them again. And I don’t – I don’t want to cause anything … you’re going to see these people for the next however many years, you’re going to work with them when you get out.” When asked what she thought about the $50, $100, and $250 fines she admitted that not knowing whether they’ve been fined before may also make people more hesitant to report violations.


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Sara was able to collect 80 signatures between classes in the short time she had available. She plans to continue to collect names even after she submits a photocopy to John Mayich ahead of Monday’s 11AM meeting.


While Sara says she has received mostly support from students and faculty since she began circulating her petition – several members of the faculty have indeed signed – she has also received at least one somewhat less supportive comment. She says “I was told I was barking up the wrong tree … that what I was doing wasn’t going to change anything … we’re taught all throughout this program if you see something that you don’t think is right, then say something. Maybe this won’t get anything changed, but it’s definitely not [going to change] if I don’t say anything.”


Sara’s been circulating a petition to have the designated smoking areas changed at school but has been told it must be submitted prior to 11AM on Monday, October 22nd ahead of a meeting to discuss, in part, the new policy. She has also created an online version of the petition which you may access here.

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