Western goes smoke-free on July 1 – the final step in an evolution that has seen a gradual shrinking of designated smoking areas and an increase in cessation supports.
The move clears the air and helps ensure a healthy campus for those who work, study and visit, said Matthew Mills, Director (Health, Safety and Wellness).
The six designated smoking areas on the periphery of campus will be gone and No Smoking/No-Vaping signs will pepper campus. Entrances to Main Campus will all have ‘butt towers’ where people can discard the remains of their cigarettes.
“It’s a constant reminder to people they should butt out before they get to campus,” Mills said.
When Western began its smoke-free process, it was among only a few campuses in Ontario to be heading that direction. Now, however, more than a dozen university and college campuses have banned smoking. Down the road, Fanshawe College went smoke-free last fall.
“A lot of places did go (smoke-free) all at once. We took a more gradual approach that focused on education and awareness. That’s how we thought it would ‘stick,’” Mills said.
One of Western’s first visible steps, following consultations across the university community during the past three years, was to ban smoking within 10 metres of buildings. In January 2018, Western added Clear Air Corridors, public spaces where smoking was not allowed, and six months later barred smoking except for six specific areas.
And as of July 1, those designated areas, too, will be gone.
The ban includes cigarette smoking and vaping. Smoking cannabis has never been permitted, as Western is considered a workplace. The rules also apply to vendors, suppliers and visitors.
Tobacco used for ceremonial purposes in Indigenous spiritual practices is exempt.
All three Western affiliates – Brescia, King’s and Huron – will also go smoke free at the same time.
During each step in the process, campus health promotion teams have helped spread the word, including ‘smoke-free ambassadors’ hired to check in on some traditional smoking hotspots such as the entrance to the D.B. Weldon Library, around the University Community Centre and beside the Social Sciences Building.
Rather than be heavy-handed in enforcement, they will remind smokers to respect the rules against lighting up, Mills said. Some even distribute packages of gum to offenders who might otherwise need a diversion from the habit.
“Our plan for enforcement is to focus on the culture. It’s all about educating and making people aware and asking them not to smoke on campus,” Mills said.
The message has been taking hold, he said. Last September, ambassadors spoke to about 60 smokers per day; a few months later, that number had dropped to a handful per day.
Uptake on Western’s smoking cessation programs has been strong and positive, he said. Many people have said they enrolled in the STOP program, a partnership with the Middlesex-London Health Unit, and are still smoke-free.
“We know we’re changing a lot of people’s trajectory, financially and for their health,” he said.
A provincial program to help students stop smoking was shuttered last month but, Mills said, students are still eligible for free nicotine-patch therapy through their student health plans.