Smoke-free effort sees early success, ready for fall

As more than 35,000 students return to a newly smoke-free campus, university officials look to continue summer successes to ‘clear the air’ into fall.

“Things are going very well. It’s been really reassuring to see people who are still smoking are using the city sidewalks, which is great,” said Matthew Mills, Director (Health, Safety and Wellness). “A lot of staff are pleased to see this, with campus now being completely smoke-free.”

Compliance has been good even with a number of conferences and events held on campus the last couple months, he added. Smoking is allowed on the city sidewalks of Western and Windermere roads and Richmond Street.

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, including Fanshawe College, who went smoke-free last fall.

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.

As of July 1, those designated areas were eliminated, with smoking now only allowed only on city sidewalks. Entrances to main campus will all have ‘butt towers’ where people can discard the remains of their cigarettes.

Smoke-free ambassadors will once again be navigating the campus this school year to spread the word.

“Their role is about education and awareness – approaching people politely and respectfully ask them to go off campus to smoke,” Mills said, noting the ambassadors are made up of students studying public health in programs such as Kinesiology, Nursing and Health Science.

“It will also be about go around to the sidewalk areas and acknowledging and thanking those who are being respectful Western being a smoke-free campus.”

Beyond cigarette smoking, the ban includes vaping, a popular activity among students.

“Vaping is stronger among the student population and our ambassadors will be at a number of O-Week events and health fairs within our residences to be visible with their education on that. Smoke is smoke,” said Mills, adding all three Western affiliates – Brescia, King’s and Huron – also went smoke free at the same time.

Smoking cannabis has never been permitted on campus as Western is considered a workplace. Tobacco used for ceremonial purposes in Indigenous spiritual practices is exempt.

A continuing focus will be around University Hospital, whose rotating population of patients and visitors has crossed to smoke on Western’s campus since London Health Sciences Centre banned smoking on its campuses in June 2016.

“The hospital will be an ongoing challenge for us with all the visitors they have. It’s an area we’ll be focusing on with our ambassadors,” said Mills, noting the hospital has shared internal communications with hospital staff. Post cards have also been printed for hospital staff to hand out to patients and visitors.

“The messaging is the same as ours in directing people to the sidewalks outside campus.”

Those looking into possibly quitting smoking can take advantage of Western’s smoking cessation programs and enroll in the STOP program, a partnership with the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

Mills realizes 100 per cent compliance into such a major initiative is not going to happen any time soon, adding it will take time for the entire campus to welcome this culture change.

“We know it will continue to take time. It doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “It’s all about educating and making people aware and asking them not to smoke on campus.”