Carelton University classroomEngaging Emerging Leaders in Cancer Control (E2C2) is a two-year project funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and run by the Campaign to Control Cancer that gives students a platform to lead their own cancer control initiatives at university campuses across Ontario. Students from five schools—the University of Toronto, Carleton University, Lakehead University, McMaster University and Queen’s University—are taking part in the initiative.

The students at Carleton have chosen to take on smoking on campus. Student leaders Fraser Massie and Mel MacDonald spoke to 1 in 3 about their efforts.

Why did you choose to tackle tobacco control?

Fraser: Mainly because that’s our number one issue here. We’re one of three universities in Ontario that still sells tobacco on campus. That’s why you’ll hear us call it a race to the bottom. It’s a race between Queen’s University and Carleton University to not be the last one to get rid of tobacco sales. We’re doing it by getting involved with the student union and action committees, and we’re also reaching out to students to get them involved. We want them to be aware of what we’re doing and how it can impact them and future students. We’d like to submit a policy to create an alternative, or at least to arrange a referendum for students to vote on this, so that everyone has a chance to choose the policy they want their university to have.

Mel: We’ve been trying to figure out how to make up the revenue those businesses on campus will lose if they stop selling tobacco. That’s been one of our main hurdles.

How’s it coming along?Carleton University students

Mel: Last year was a starter year for us. This year we’re starting to take action. If we see somebody smoking less than 10 metres away from the door, we ask them to smoke 10 metres away. We’re also acting as support for students who want to quit but don’t know how. We’ve partnered with Leave the Pack Behind to support these students and give them resources.

Fraser: We need to change the culture of complacency because a lot of students are just unaware or apathetic. There is evidence to suggest that the presence of smoke-free campus policies correspond with lower smoking rates on campus.

Mel: We’re also focusing on physical exercise and how it can help students deal with stress. One of the reasons students start to smoke is that they feel overwhelmed with school and don’t know how to cope with it.

Fraser: It’s true. Young people need to be aware of not only how susceptible they are to developing the habit of smoking, but also how they can effectively break the habit. That seems to be their biggest problem—they don’t know how to deal with it. For many students, smoking becomes the mechanism they’ll use to deal with stress for the rest of their lives. Since we’re an institution that is meant to be preparing us for life, we should be preparing our students to deal with stress.

Why is tackling tobacco control important to you?

Mel: It’s important to me because I care about the health of future generations. E2C2 has given me a chance to support those who want to quit but don’t know how. It also helps reduce the chances of others getting cancer in the future.

Fraser: It’s important that we reach out to students so that they don’t have to suffer the consequences of their mistakes. I know of someone who had started smoking at Carleton when he was in undergrad. Now he’s 40 and he’s been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He has kids our age going to college and he’s had to break the sad news to them. That story inspired me to make change. It’s about spreading the message that our day-to-day choices in life can have a huge impact on our long-term health.

To learn more about the work of the E2C2 initiative, please visit their website.