Western could go cold turkey when it comes to smoking on campus, with recent survey results showing a majority of the university’s students, staff and faculty in favour of ‘butting out’ when it comes to the much maligned tobacco habit.
“What precipitated us to look at the future of smoking was really the large number of complaints coming in by students, staff and faculty around the whole smoking issue,” said Jane O’Brien, Associate Vice-President (Human Resources).
Those complaints led to a campuswide survey distributed in January.
“It’s a health issue and we need to be respectful; we have obligations with regards to health and wellness in our community,” O’Brien added.
With more than 3,000 respondents, questions around quitting smoking, second-hand smoke and possible solutions to the problem brought an array of responses.
“Forty-four per cent of those who responded said the current smoking policy is not effective. That tells us there’s a change needed,” O’Brien said. “What the change is, I don’t know exactly, but there is a desire for change. This was an opportunity for people to voice their concerns – it showed it wasn’t just a small group of people who were complaining, but a larger group that is actually concerned.”
Of those who responded to the survey, 13 per cent said they were an occasional or regular smoker, with 50 per cent saying they may, or would like to, quit within the next six months.
“We need to put in place a support plan so they can make that change,” O’Brien said.
Under Western’s employee benefits plan, there are supports for nicotine replacement. O’Brien said perhaps other supports are needed, as 34 per cent of smokers admitted they tried to quit but failed to do so in the last year.
“We need to be sensitive that it (a smoke- and tobacco-free campus) can’t happen overnight. It’s more of a transitional plan. But this survey gave us specific facts people do want to change and we need to put plans in place to support that.”
The survey found 57 per cent of smokers admitted to smoking on sidewalks and paths between buildings or close to doorways where they are working or studying. This may explain why 69 per cent of respondents said the smell or presence of smoke bothers them, with 40 per cent concerned about second-hand smoke, and another 14 per cent saying it physically makes them feel ill or caused health problems.
Along with the current no-smoking policy inside buildings and within 10 metres of any doorway, window, air intake or loading dock, Western introduced three Clean Air Corridors last year to act as designated no-smoking areas. Those areas included:
- The area between the D.B. Weldon Library and Western Student Services Building;
- The driveway/walkway between Lawson Hall and Somerville House (near the entrance to Lucy’s); and
- The steps, overhang and sidewalk around the main entrance to Social Sciences Centre.
While adherence in these areas is not expected to be overnight, it is non-existent for most. The survey showed 39 per cent thought the zones were somewhat effective but an additional 44 per cent felt they were not effective at all. Showing the divisive nature of the debate, survey comments included:
- People don’t follow the smoking policy and I almost always have to walk past smokers when entering Weldon Library;
- I also saw someone smoke in a Clean Air Corridor and nothing happened to him;
- Just leave smokers alone. Are you gonna police all unhealthy behaviours people do that may affect others?
- Clear Air Corridors are seldom enforced. People smoke outside Weldon all the time anyways;
- How about not letting every single person on campus harass someone smoking? How about using logical harm reduction strategies (such as scent-free plastic bags for butts, used currently in Japan) rather than attempt a ridiculous, over-reaching ‘abstinence-only’ design;
- I resent that smokers do not obey and respect the boundaries that are supposed to protect doorways – in front of Weldon is a prime example; and
- No one seems to be enforcing the smoking with 10 meters of doorways. They need to start fining them or they will never stop.
Possible solutions to the corridor problem included the use of ‘ambassadors’ who can speak with smokers and encourage compliance, of which 26 per cent suggested, with 41 per cent saying there should be enforcement officers patrolling the areas.
O’Brien said the survey results will be part of a larger report that goes to Western’s President and Vice-Presidents, likely in May or June. It is expected a stakeholder’s committee will be formed in the fall in order to include the students’ voice in the decision making.
While the Ontario government banned the sale of tobacco on college and university campuses in 2015, there are rumblings new legislation requiring all university and college campuses go completely smoke-free is on the province’s to-do list. This may accelerate the decision as to whether or not Western pre-emptively begins the process to become a smoke- and tobacco-free campus at Western, O’Brien said. But the university may also decide to accommodate smokers with a designated smoking area on campus and wait until the province actually legislates the change.
Survey results showed 59 per cent feel the university should go smoke and tobacco free before being legislated to do so, and another 68 per cent said Western should step up on this issue and a be a leader among large Canadian universities.
Most U.S. colleges and university campuses have gone smoke free, including such large school as the University of Michigan and Ohio State University. There are some smoke-free campuses in Canada, such as Lakehead University, and soon-to-be smoke-free campuses, like McGill University.
“We will continue to move forward to make a decision about the future of smoking at Western,” O’Brien said. “We also don’t know what kind of change. I don’t know what the decision will be, a campus that is smoke free or a campus that has a smoking area. That will be a decision of the stakeholders group.”