The promotion of a healthy lifestyle for staff and students has been the driving factor behind the University of Canberra’s new “tobacco-free campus”, but concerns remain over how this policy will be enforced.
The policy, introduced at the start of Semester Two across UC, is part of a wider ACT government plan to tackle tobacco problems, forming from guidelines in the National Tobacco and National Preventative Health strategies.
Under a tobacco-free campus system, university borders will be free from the consumption and sale of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
After reviewing similar programs at other universities, and receiving support for a smoke-free university from staff and students in a 2015 survey, the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Education, Professor Nick Klomp, hopes that peer pressure and expectation will oblige smokers to abstain.
“It is going to be enforced by the will of staff and students; by the 70 or 80 per cent that wanted a smoke-free environment,” he said.
“(There are) no suggestions of fines or anything else, and I hope we never get to that. But some universities have gone that way.”
“It’s a question of whether the word is out, whether the support is out, that we don’t make pariahs or martyrs of people. It’s a health issue.”
Before the current policy was applied, the university originally had four designated smoking areas, restricted recently to just two. Under the new system students will be inconvenienced into going off campus to get their nicotine fix.
And not all of the student body is on-board with the plan.
Welfare Officer for the UCSA, Terry Watson, believes that the new policy was replacing a system that already works.
“It’s policy for policy’s sake,” he said.
“My position is that UC should be smoke-free, but with designated areas, rather than a complete blanket ban. It punishes students for having an addiction.”
Professor Klomp disagreed with this position, stating that the times had changed.
“An outside smoking area, while it seemed kind of acceptable 5 years ago, is not deemed as acceptable in public spaces anymore,” he said. In a similar case, the Australian Medical Association have also recently suggested a ban on smoking in public housing in the ACT.
The UC Medical and Counselling Centre has supported the introduction of the policy. With 80 per cent of smokers becoming addicted as teenagers, the Centre hopes that smoking stops being seen as normalised behaviour on campus, and as a result people will choose to quit.
Professor Klomp said that along with campus health staff, the policy had been developed with the students and faculty members.
“We asked the staff and we asked the students in a survey. It was 70-odd percent (in favour), including people that identified themselves as smokers, that said we had to go smoke-free,” he said.
“We want to promote a healthy lifestyle for our staff and students, and to encourage that, we want to give all the support for the people that are trying to quit, but we also want to say ‘while you’re on our campus you don’t get to smoke’.”
Concerns have also been raised over the civil liberties of staff and students by the restriction of a legal product for those over the age of 18. While tobacco is being targeted, other unhealthy products like alcohol and sugar remain free for those on campus to make their own consumption choices about.
“You still have to take a stance on certain things. Does that mean we take a stance on everything? Well, no, you just move the best you can,” Professor Klomp said.
“You just do the best you can with the most important issues of the time and also what’s actually doable. What is not doable right now, is to stop having a bar on campus when there’s a bar down the road.”
After the University of Canberra Council expressed concern in their April 2015 meeting (Item 21) that “there would likely be some challenges, particularly for international students”, Professor Klomp did concede that the university could miss out on potential incoming students to campuses that accommodated smoking.
“I think there are possibly people that will be put off by a smoke-free environment that will now not go to the University of Canberra,” he said.
“It’s a real pity that the cigarette controlled those individuals’ lives, but I’m going to let those people go. If we then lose a few people because of that, then that’s ok.”
To go along with the new policy, the University Medical and Counselling Centre has increased their support for students wanting to stop smoking.
Since 2015, they have overseen training for resident advisors in student accommodation, held sessions on smoking for mature and international students, and offered drop-in talk sessions with nurses for students looking to quit.
While the policy is already officially in place, the University of Canberra intends to launch signage and marketing for the tobacco-free campus during the first week of October.
Professor Klomp sees a smooth transition for the campus, but he also offered to discuss any fears arising from students.
“We will address all of those individual concerns (with this policy) as we go. We’ll keep on addressing them, but the decision has been made,” he said.
Leave your thoughts about the new tobacco-free campus policy below.
Any student looking to quit smoking can find the UC Medical and Counselling Centre on Level B of Building 1, and can be called on 6201 2351. The Federal Government initiative Quitline can be reached on 13 78 48.
The office of Professor Nick Klomp can be contacted by students on 6201 5064, or emailed through email@example.com
The UCSA will be holding a tobacco free university forum next Wednesday September 14, all students welcome.