Campus smoking changes further clear the air

Western community members will be able to breathe a bit easier thanks to a recent expansion of the university’s smoke-free zones. However, don’t look for a totally smoke-free campus any time soon.

This week, Western expanded its smoke-free zones, known as Clear Air Corridors, to include a large area bordering University Hospital. The corridors also include areas around many buildings on the north end of campus, including most medical facilities. On the east side, the corridors extend across the footbridge to take in parts of Westminster Hall.

In addition to the expanded smoke-free area, e-cigarette smoking (or vaping) will now fall under the same smoking policy rules as any other form of smoking on campus. That policy currently prohibits smoking 10 metres from any entrance, window, air intake or loading dock, as well as any designated Clear Air Corridor.

“Over the years, there have been a lot of areas identified as problematic and that led to the implementation of these Clear Air Corridors,” said Jane O’Brien, Associate Vice-President (Human Resources). “We have always had a Western policy prohibiting smoking in certain areas – 10 metres from entrances. But there have been significant issues over time where our buildings are not 10 metres apart or other areas where concerns arose.”

O’Brien cited numerous areas still having issues with smoking, despite the changes, including those near the London Transit Commission bus stop in front of the Natural Sciences Building, as well as spots near the Biology & Geology Building and Taylor Library.

The biggest challenge, however, came this summer when London Health Sciences Centre went smoke free across all its facilities, including the grounds of University Hospital. As of June 30, staff, patients, families and visitors are no longer permitted to smoke anywhere in the buildings, on hospital grounds or in vehicles parked in hospital parking lots/garages.

The move came in advance of the Smoke-Free Ontario Act requirement for all outdoor grounds of hospitals to be completely smoke-free by Jan. 1, 2018.

Smokers were, however, allowed to leave hospital property, smoke and then return. This exodus created numerous problems on Western’s campus – the nearest non-hospital property – where huddled, smoldering masses gathered across Perth Drive in and around the Chemistry Parking Lot, among other locations.

Western Human Resources almost immediately started receiving complaints about the smoking and cigarette butt litter.

“I have great empathy, great compassion for people – especially the patients – who are in this situation. But a lot of this was a public-policy decision of the government as it relates to hospitals. LHSC is well aware of our issues and they have been communicating with their employees,” O’Brien said. “But when I say we got numerous complains, it was numerous complaints – every day. Something had to be done.”

And the Western community seems to be demanding a change.

In April, a campuswide survey showed 59 per cent of university community members felt 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 be a leader among large Canadian universities. Further, 44 per cent of Western community members don’t feel the university’s smoking policy is effective in Clean Air Corridors.

On Jan. 1, 2015, 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.

Most U.S. colleges and university campuses have gone smoke free, including such large schools 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.

But don’t look for Western to go totally smoke-free right away.

O’Brien said consultation is key to deciding the future of smoking on campus. In the coming months, an Advisory Committee on the Future of Smoking at Western will be established to explore the topic.

“The big component in all of this is around the health and well-being of our community members. We are trying to ensure a healthy community for all members,” she said.