University looks to clear the air on campus smoking
Western has drawn the line – or several of them, actually – on smoking on campus.
Launched Wednesday, the Let’s Clear the Air Here campaign looks to engage the university community in a conversation about smoking policies on campus. As part of that discussion, the university implemented three new ‘clear air corridors’ where smoking is prohibited. Those areas include:
- Between Somerville House and Lawson Hall;
- Between the D.B. Weldon Library, Western Student Services Building (WSSB) and the University Community Centre (UCC) ; and
- At the main entrances of Social Science Centre.
The areas are easily recognizable by blue lines painted on the sidewalks. Signage will accompany these lines in these areas in the coming weeks.
“There are concerns (about smoking) being expressed by a number of members of our community,” said Jane O’Brien, Associate Vice-President (Human Resources). “Because of the design of some of our buildings, when people stand outside those buildings and smoke, it is very difficult to avoid walking through very dense amounts of smoke. It’s totally a health and safety concern on campus.
“The areas we have identified as ‘clear air corridors’ are the three areas where we have had numerous complaints for numerous years. This allows us to see what the implications of corridors you cannot smoke in will be.”
Western’s current policy bans smoking in university buildings, as well as within 10 metres of building entrances, loading docks and fresh air intakes. Building entrances, especially those outside Weldon and WSSB, have historically been the biggest point of contention between smokers and nonsmokers.
In recent years, HR has seen an increase in the number of complaints regarding violations of Western’s Policy on Smoking. In addition to complaints coming to HR and the Joint Health and Safety Occupation Committee, other complaints about smoking are fielded by Campus Police, and many leaders in buildings.
Although Western’s smoking policy has been in place since 2003, there hasn’t been a coordinated awareness campaign conducted on campus in the last decade or more.
“There are all kinds of organizations who have dealt with this issue in a number of ways. We have begun the dialogue and discussion process,” O’Brien said.
In the past several months, HR has consulted with a number of individuals and groups, both on and off campus, including the University Students Council (USC) and Society of Graduates Students; campus bargaining units; St. Joseph’s Health Care; Middlesex-London Health Unit; and Fanshawe College, which has had designated smoking areas for a number of years.
St. Joseph’s went smoke free in January. That means all patients, staff, families and visitors are not permitted to smoke anywhere in the building, on hospital grounds or in parking garages. Those who wish to smoke need to do so off the property.
“Geography is a challenge for us. We are a huge campus. To try and track down, and keep an eye out for, smoking is way harder compared to a company that has three entrances to its building and a small parking lot,” O’Brien said. “We are a city – we face the same challenges with regards to smoking that a small city would.”
Smoking on university campuses has become a battleground in the last decade.
According to the Americans for Nonsmokers Rights, a leading antismoking lobbying organization, nearly 1,620 U.S. universities have gone smoke-free. That number has grown from less than 500 just five years ago. Just this summer, Syracuse University, home to 22,000 students, approved a smoke-free campus policy.
Major Canadian universities have yet to buy into smoke-free campus policies. Dalhousie instituted a smoke-free campus in 2003, the first major university in Canada to implement such a ban. More than 82 per cent of Dalhousie community members who responded to a 2003 survey supported the policy’s adoption.
The clean air corridors are the second major shift for campus smokers in less than a year.
On Jan. 1, changes announced to the Smoke-Free Ontario Act made it illegal to smoke on bar and restaurant patios, playgrounds and public sports fields and surfaces, as well as sell tobacco on university and college campuses. Western was already in line with most of those policy changes.
As a rule, Western does not ‘enforce’ its smoking policy. Unlike parking, for instance, there are no tickets handed out for smoking in the wrong spot.
Human Resources points to programs offered by the university to help members of its community kick the habit. For students, Leave the Pack Behind offers awareness and smoking cessation programs. For faculty and staff, Western pays for smoking cessation programs as part of an employee’s benefits package. There are additional supports under consideration currently.
Although there are no plans to consider a smoke-free policy at this time, Western is currently conducting a cross-campus consultation on the future of smoking at Western. O’Brien said organizers have been talking to student leaders, employee groups and others inside and outside of the community to see what people think about smoking.
In January, the university will conduct a campuswide survey on the future of smoking.
Among the questions on the table:
- What more should Western do to clear the air for non-smokers?
- Should Western make changes that would only allow smoking in certain designated areas?
- Should Western make a plan to go smoke- and tobacco-free?
“This is a large change for us to consider – a smoke-free campus. We want to give everyone a voice on this,” O’Brien said. “One of the main things we are hoping to glean from that is, do people want Western to be a leader in this, or wait until we are told to do something.
“Our goal is not to force everyone to quit; our goal is a clean and safe campus for all members.”