Algonquin students vent over permanent smoking ban

Some students at Algonquin College's Ottawa campus are fuming over the possibility of a permanent, blanket ban on smoking at the school.

Students' association says majority opposes blanket ban on tobacco, pot smoking

Algonquin College student Serafina Zirbser wants to see the campus-wide smoking ban lifted. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Some students at Algonquin College's Ottawa campus are fuming over the possibility of a permanent, blanket ban on smoking at the school.

The college announced an interim policy in early October forbidding smoking anywhere on its Ottawa, Perth and Pembroke campuses, effective until Jan. 1, 2019.

The stopgap measure was in response to the Ontario government's decision that cannabis smoking will be allowed wherever tobacco smoking is permitted, an announcement that left institutions scrambling to align their policies with the province's pot laws.

Algonquin is currently consulting students about making the smoking ban permanent, and will hold a forum on Friday to give them a chance to vent.

Ban unfair, students' association says

Matthew Regnier, a director with the Algonquin Students' Association, said based on unscientific surveys, even though most students don't smoke, the majority believes those who do should have someplace to puff on campus, whether they're smoking a cigarette or a joint.

A fight is brewing at Algonquin College over the right to smoke on campus.We hear from the student association president. 5:19

Regnier said forcing smokers off the sprawling campus in the few minutes they have between classes is unfair.

"Most students feel that a smoking ban on campus does not align with the college's values," he said.

Under an alternative policy suggested by the students' association, students would be allowed to smoke in designated areas on campus, away from entrances and highly travelled pathways.

Algonquin College student Emily Godin, 19, is against a permanent smoking ban on campus. (Stu Mills/CBC)

'We're all adults'

That would suit Serafina Zirbser, 23, who was flouting the interim ban near the college's student centre Thursday.

"We're all adults. If we don't want to be around people who are smoking, then we can just walk away," she said. 

"We're already super stressed, and then you're taking away something that helps with stress? It's going to cause a lot of problems."

Emily Godin, who said she used to smoke but quit, wondered why the college is considering banning marijuana smoking on campus when it allows the consumption of alcohol.

"We have a bar here too," observed Godin, 19. "Why are you allowing us to get drunk on campus, but you're limiting us getting high?"

Support for ban

Despite the students' association's claim, it's not difficult to find students who are in favour of the blanket ban.

"There's a time and a place for smoking, and it's not during post-secondary education," said Kayleigh Siermachesky, a student in the college's diagnostic medical imaging program, who said she's seen the negative health effects of smoking first-hand.

Friday's smoke-free campus forum takes place at 2 p.m. in the Ottawa campus's Indigenous Centre.