Aurora College is moving toward becoming a smoke-free campus.
The college hopes to join at least 26 other Canadian post-secondary institutions in banning smoking on school property.
Jeff O’Keefe, interim president, said the college’s plan faced hurdles like high numbers of smokers and a limited capacity to enforce smoke-free policies.
In the NWT, 32.5 percent of residents over the age of 12 are occasional or daily smokers, much higher than the national average of 18.5 percent, according to the Department of Health and Social Services’ most recent annual report.
“For the last two years, we’ve been doing smoking cessation programs with our students at all three campuses. We’ve tried a number of things: some of it is information, some of it is education, and some of it is incentives to helps students [and staff] to quit smoking,” O’Keefe said.
Most recently, the college moved the smoking area at its Thebacha campus in Fort Smith from near the back doors by the parking lot to a less visible location, eliminating the second-hand smoke staff and students used to have to walk through each day.
The college is now examining its Aurora (Inuvik) and North Slave (Yellowknife) campuses for ways to further reduce smoking there — but details remain to be determined, such as where students can smoke if they eventually cannot do so anywhere on-site.
For example, in Yellowknife, O’Keefe said banning smoking on the campus — which is located in the Northern United Place building — would push students out onto the street to smoke, as the City has banned smoking on sidewalks.
There is also the question of what to do once cannabis is legalized this fall.
“Right now we don’t allow students to drink alcohol in our residences, and so our plan at the moment is to treat cannabis the same as alcohol: as an intoxicant,” he said.
“We would approach cannabis on campus as similar to the idea that we wouldn’t allow you to stand somewhere on campus and drink beer, so we’re not going to allow people to smoke cannabis on our property.”
He added exceptions will be made, and have been made already, in cases of medicinal marijuana use.
While some of these changes come as students are on summer break, such as the moving of the Thebacha smoking area, O’Keefe doesn’t think students will be surprised.
“Realistically, [going 100 percent smoke-free] will be one of those things that we’re all moving towards.”
The campuses have already had some success with their smoking cessation programs; at the Thebacha campus over a dozen people came out regularly to a support group when school was in session.
“All around we want our students to be successful,” said O’Keefe. “Physical health and mental health contribute to their overall success.
“We don’t just focus on stopping their bad habits, we try to expose them to positive things … our student life and wellness coordinators are taking students out for hikes, sightseeing, and providing access to fitness opportunities.”