Western's Changing Smoking Policy: Who Is It Working For?

Since 2003, smoking has been officially prohibited within 10 metres of building entrances on Western’s campus. However, Western’s official policy on enforcement was...not enforcing it. Signs were posted, but there was little in the way of penalties for violations and little effort to encourage compliance.

In recent years, however, Western has taken some serious new steps towards reducing, restricting, and ultimately eliminating smoking on campus. The question is, how are these changes affecting student experience on campus, for smokers and non-smokers alike? Are they even effective?

 

Clear Air Corridors

In 2015, Western implemented a new policy of three Clear Air Corridors: one between Weldon, the UCC, and the Student Services Building; one between Somerville House and Lawson Hall; and one around the main entrance of the Social Science Centre. These locations were selected as having the most complaints and concerns about the constant presence of smokers and were designated as officially smoke-free.

In 2016, The London Health Sciences Centre, including University Hospital, became smoke-free, leading many smokers to travel to Western’s campus. In response, much of the north end of campus was added to Western’s designated smoke-free Clear Air Corridors. Still, Western’s policy of non-enforcement meant that these “rules” were treated as suggestions at best.

Nara Monteiro, a fourth year English student at Western, is particularly affected by the polluted air. “As someone with severe asthma, when I have a cold, inhaling smoke can bring on prolonged coughing fits that cause me to miss class,” she explains. “Even on good days, large groups of smokers can negatively affect my ability to breathe. I cannot control the weakened state of my lungs, and I must walk to class. Smokers can, on the other hand, control where they smoke.

Monteiro was initially in favour of the Clear Air Corridors policy, but has been less than impressed with its efficacy. “The so-called ‘Clear Air Corridor’ between Weldon and the UCC—arguably the most frequented area on the entire campus—was in many cases a corridor of smoke,” she says. “Especially in the winter, people used to congregate outside of Weldon in large groups and create quite the cloud.”

As well as the thick smoke, hundreds of cigarette butts carpeted the pavement in front of the library—except for the day before Open House, when they would be carefully cleared away.

Part of the issue might have been lack of clarity and education—most signs were high overhead, and the more noticeable pavement markings gave no indication of their meaning. Heather*, a third year Linguistics student and regular smoker, says she was barely aware of the policy.

“I had a vague idea of where the areas were,” she says, “and would avoid smoking around medical areas anyways, but never was really sure of the boundaries…I think more informational stuff would be helpful, but I don't really think enforcement works. The Clear Air people right now mostly just mildly annoy smokers rather than actually dissuading them.”

 

Designated Smoking Areas

On July 1st, 2018, Western switched from allowing smoking anywhere except in specified locations to only allowing smoking in specified locations. Six designated smoking areas were set up, and the rest of campus designated as completely smoke-free. So far, the results have been promising.

“I see a reduction in smoking on the major areas on campus this year,” says Monteiro. “I encounter less smoke on my daily walks to class. The smoking areas I have seen have been fairly out of the way.

Heather says she has found the transition to be relatively smooth. “Smokers are mostly adjusting painlessly to the smoking areas,” she says. “I actually think the smoking areas are a nice idea, and I enjoy having a specific place to go and smoke where I can meet other smokers.”

Both agree, however, that there’s room for improvement.

“I think if there were more or better smoking areas people would follow the policy more,” says Heather, who believes that smokers disobey the policy as much as half the time. “Smokers aren't spiteful and purposely difficult; it’s just that the current policy is such an ordeal to follow…The smoking spots are really out of the way and inaccessible depending on where you are on campus. It can be miserable making the trek in the cold weather, and some of the location spots seem focused on keeping smokers out of sight rather than thinking about what would actually work.”

Only one of the six smoking areas is south of Lambton Drive, located by the TD Stadium parking lot. There is also only one smoking area north of Middlesex Drive, located adjacent to Saugeen-Maitland Hall. As a result of this awkward spacing, smokers often face a seven-minute walk each way—a longer time than they may even spend smoking.

Adherence to the policy also seems to be slipping as time goes by. Monteiro observes, “More smokers remain near doors as winter progresses. Just today I passed two smokers by the loading area near Weldon… Lenient policies are only effective if they are properly enforced. I have never seen anyonebe reprimanded for smoking in a non-smoking area.”

 

Western Goes Smoke-Free

Next year, smokers must again prepare for change—the introduction of designated smoking areas is intended only as an intermediary step towards going fully smoke-free on July 1st, 2019. Western will join a growing trend among universities. Since 2003, when Dalhousie University became the first post-secondary institution in Canada to make the change, sixty other colleges and universities have followed suit—at least two-thirds of those in the past two years. In the US, over 2000 institutions have gone smoke-free.

However, Monteiro and Heather aren’t sure this change will be positive.

“The peripheral smoking areas currently in place seem to be allowing smokers an accessible area without significantly impeding other students,” says Monteiro. “In some ways I worry that the smoke-free policy will re-disperse those who are using the smoking areas onto central areas of campus. If there are no smoking areas on campus, are smokers less likely to care where they smoke?”

Heather believes that a total non-smoking policy may be too harsh. “It’s seems a little ridiculous to me,” she says. "People are still going to smoke cigarettes…It’s a little stressful because for some people who smoke more, [following this policy] essentially forces them to quit or stop coming to campus. I don’t think anyone’s smoking less, just smoking in different places—or, more often, in the exact same place as before.”

If Western’s goal is to make campus more accessible and enjoyable for more people, they may wish to rethink their next step and stick with what’s working.

 

*Name changed for privacy

 

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